People in Lighting: Kerry Simpson

Kerry Simpson - Senior Application Engineer/Trainer - Sylvania Schréder
Kerry Simpson
Senior Lighting Engineer - Sylvania Schréder

Companies are defined by the people who work for them: for over a century, Schréder has been at the forefront of lighting thanks to its employees worldwide. Throughout 2021 we’ll be focusing on the people who make Schréder what it is, including their career path, landmark projects and their thoughts on where lighting is headed next.

Kerry Simpson is a Senior Application Engineer and Trainer for Sylvania-Schréder in Brisbane, Australia. He has over 47 years of experience in the lighting industry, including 12 years in the public sector with the ACT Electricity Authority and a stint at Philips Lighting before joining Sylvania, which was acquired by Schréder in 2020.
His passion for great illumination is infectious and he’s worked on thousands of projects across Australia from lighting the football field in Tumbalong (population: 340) to legendary cricket stadium The Gabba.


I first realised the power of lighting at High School…

There was a modern dance company I was interested in becoming a part of. I’m a thespian at heart. I went along to rehearsals, I talked to the lighting guy, and I got the bug! Theatre lighting is an amazing place for training. You’ve got 2D flats you have to turn into 3D. You’ve got to create atmosphere, warmth, hate, passion, romance. You’ve got to draw the audience’s attention to one area while the stage crew are working in another. It was a great training ground as you get instant feed-back, can correct, and hone your skills, preparing you for commercial work and sports lighting.

I became an electrician to learn about theatre lighting…

But I ended up involved in street lighting. I was purchasing street lighting and got involved in the Australian Standards Committee, from the users’ side. In 1982, I joined the Illuminating Engineering Society of Australia and New Zealand (IES), the professional body for the art and science of lighting. But I was still doing theatre lighting at night.

I started my own company... 

We were making lights out of paint tins and lighting bands, discos, parties. Now we primarily do lighting audits for sports fields. But I also put together spectacular Christmas lights. Then, I joined Philips Lighting. I got given a car, a mobile phone - well, it was bolted into the car - and travelled all over the southern half of New South Wales. After that I joined Sylvania Lighting, where I’ve been for more than 16 years, and became part of Schreder in 2020. I’m in Queensland, which is vast - if I got in the car and drove for 20 hours I’d only be halfway up the state. 

I don’t sell lights, I sell solutions…

I know that’s a truism, but it’s all about working with the customer to figure out the task(s) they want to perform and provide the most appropriate lighting solution. My biggest project was commissioning the lighting at The Gabba, Queensland’s home of international cricket, with a seating capacity of 42,000. It involved aiming 614 floodlights spread over four 75m+ towers and an undercover catwalk as well as performing full TV audits. The aerial shot is from my drone, which I take out when commissioning.

Kerry Simpson takes great pleasure in installing sports lighting solutions

But the majority of sports lighting we do is grassroots...

It’s nice to do these bell-ringer jobs that you see on TV, but I probably get more pleasure out of the little country town where they want their football field lit. I go out with my little measuring wheel, do the design, do the quote, they run their barbecues, run their raffles, get grants, and then I work with the electrical contractor to install it. Sometimes the whole town turns out for the switch-on. It really changes things. It’s an extension of the day for them, it keeps the kids out of the sun, I get quite emotional! 

Sports lighting is an art, not a science...

You’re not playing the ground, you’re playing the ball. Your players, your opposition, are in the 3D above ground envelope, and they’ve got to be seen. The whole philosophy in sports lighting design is that it’s very hard to measure and calculate all the vertical points, but you can calculate on the ground. So as long as you put poles evenly around, you get the lights up high enough so they don’t cause glare and become a distraction, then you’ve got the horizontals right and the verticals will work. 

What you have now is that some people punch the numbers into a computer and think it’s going to work, but it’s this background knowledge that makes it all work. I’ve seen some shocking installations, using basically industrial lighting - it’s heartbreaking. When I measure, I go round with someone from the club to understand what they need…  by the end I can draw up a design and they understand the basics of lighting.

My favourite project... the Illumicube

I conceived and designed this back in 1988, and it became a landmark in Canberra. It’s a voice-activated light-up 3m high, corner mounted cube, which was loosely inspired by the ACTEA logo. It became a hit with children and families. If you’re a busker, you can sit there and have your own light show. Late-night drinkers would come and sing to it. It was based on an electronics kit I had as a kid, so it’s old technology, but it’s still going, although it’s activated by movement now. I’m really proud to have an artwork in the capital of Australia! 

Kerry Simpson designed and developed the original Illumicube for the city of Canberra

It’s great being a part of Schréder because…

After several changes of management, the purchase by Schréder has been very enlightening. It’s back to a family lighting business, they speak the language. Having been brought in to be a part of the product creation process - we’ve been working on the ECOBLAST, which is a modular sports lighting system - is wonderful. It is great to be invited to provide feedback from my experience to a multi-disciplinary international team.

I’m always learning…

I’ve been teaching the IES courses for decades, and I became a fellow in 2009. But a big part of that is keeping up with changes: the way we interact with customers, the switch to LED, the industry is constantly evolving. I’m not afraid to get it wrong! Learn from it, next time, do it a bit differently.

I’m currently training the next generation of sales people, I hope that I’m getting my enthusiasm out to the reps. I take them out at night, I show them the lighting. Lighting design is not just a piece of paper with numbers on it. I always show people a Google Earth image, to understand a lighting solution, I try to do visualisation for people that don’t speak our language.

But now it’s time for some new adventures...

I’m looking at retirement in October this year. It’s been a hard decision because I love what I do, especially with the new products coming out locally and internationally! But I’ve got a lot to do - travel (my wife’s been retired a few years), learn guitar, I’ve got nine grandchildren to entertain with a magician act… It won’t be quiet!

Connect with Kerry on LinkedIn