Let there BE LIGHT
LIGHTING AND ELECTROMECHANICAL CONTRACTING BRAND DEBBAS IS RENOWNED FOR ITS AWARD-WINNING PROJECTS. WITH SEVERAL OFFICES AND AUTHORISED REPRESENTATIVES AROUND THE GLOBE, NAYLA KURD CHATS TO THE BUSINESSMAN RUNNING THE COMPANY AT ITS HELM, PRESIDENT ZIAD DEBBAS.
Ekaruna Could you tell us about your background and how you came to work as President for Debbas?
Ziad Debbas I grew up in France and Switzerland, but spent most of my holidays with my family in Lebanon. As for my college years, I studied in Canada and the US. I graduated from Concordia University in 1992 with a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance and in 1998 with an MBA from Harvard.
Following my undergraduate studies at Concordia University, I moved to Saudi Arabia and worked for a couple of years with Arthur D. Little in management consulting. I later joined the family business in sales, promoting our manufactured range of lighting fixtures. Subsequently, after acquiring my MBA, I founded and managed an internet software company in London, eventually moving the full operation to Beirut. I then handed over the day-today management of the start-up company and reintegrated the family business in 2003.
For the last ten years or so, I took on several positions and challenges in sales, business development and management of business units in Beirut and Dubai. In the last few years, I assumed a leadership role in our Group lighting activities.
Ekaruna The company specialises in a wide array of services, with lighting at the forefront. Overall, would you say lighting technology is still the company’s strongest skill? And if so, how have you honed that trait over the years?
Ziad Debbas Debbas is an engineering company at its core and takes pride in maintaining an exceptional reputation in electromechanical contracting, building management systems and more recently in energy network management.
Lighting has been in the DNA of Debbas for more than a century and has established our brand internationally. Today, Debbas Lighting is a major player in the global lighting industry, and is unique in its focus and strategic approach, which is solution centric and service oriented.
In addition to our lighting products, Cesar Debbas & Fils offers a wide range of innovative electrical products and solutions to improve performance, comfort and energy saving. We operate through a distribution network of more than one hundred retail shops covering the Lebanese territory, and are a leading player in project supplies providing turnkey solutions along with after sales support and maintenance services for MV/LV substations. We are the favored partner of professionals in the electrical business, namely electricians, electrical utilities, end users, contractors and key industrial accounts. We offer quality products, reliable delivery, availability, competitiveness, expertise, integration, innovation and customised services. Our major electric products brand offerings range from OSRAM for conventional and LED lamps, electronic control gear and fixtures; HAGER for modular protection and control devices; ABB for mural wiring accessories; MEGAMAN for LED lamps and fixtures; 3M for electrical tapes, connectors, terminations & joints; FRER for metering apparatus and instruments; VERGOKAN for cable supporting systems to EFACEC for MV transformers and switchgears.
Ekaruna How does customer feedback factor in the design process of turnkey lighting solutions?
Ziad Debbas In the early stages of a project, we assist and advise designers in translating their creative concepts into optimal and workable specifications. The design and engineering process requires a close interaction between the designer and his/ her team. In many instances, our lighting engineering teams become an extension of the designer’s team, and this effective collaboration produces highly innovative yet practical lighting specifications that truly fit each project’s unique requirements.
Ekaruna Could you talk to us about how lighting design and technology are shifting the workspace environment? What about the home space?
Ziad Debbas As you may know, Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology has transformed the lighting industry in the last decade or so. In the early years of this revolution, LED technology addressed the “low hanging fruit”, namely energy saving. The energy saving benefits of LEDs essentially impacted and benefited the home space, but had a lesser impact on the workspace, simply because the home space has been using extremely inefficient incandescent light sources, whereas the workspace has been using relatively efficient fluorescent light sources.
At the moment, the growth of the retrofit business has slowed down, and the technological progress driving more efficiency out of LEDs will eventually reach its physical limits. Given these combined factors, the industry has adapted its R&D and marketing towards improving the quality of light thanks to LED. Today’s LEDs and LED fixtures are not only more efficient than traditional sources, but also allow the controlling of light in a totally new manner. This is now impacting the workspace more than the mainstream home space and to an even greater extent; it is dramatically changing the way we light all public spaces like retail and entertainment spaces, hospitality, landscape, architectural facades, street lighting, sports, museums etc…
Today, LED is not only about the amount of lumen per watt we can offer, but also about the way we propose the best colour rendering, mood control, glare control, beams, vertical surface illumination, to name a few. LED has also allowed a miniaturisation of lighting fixtures enabling manufacturers to come closer to realising the ultimate wish of most architects, being the “zero fixture”- hiding the fixture and showing the light.
INTERVIEW RELAY Ekaruna The International Consumer Electronic show (CES), held in Last Vegas at the beginning of the year proved many developers targeting the smart home are focusing on the development of LEDs – where chipboards can combine light sources with sensors for tasks from thermal management to motion detection – to allow light fixtures to do more. Can you tell our readers how your company is planning on integrating these technologies in our market in the near future?
Ziad Debbas Regarding thermal management, we are talking about the required engineering to dissipate the heat produced by LEDs in order to maintain the promise of long life (50,000 hours or more). Up until now, we haven’t found a reliable “active” thermal management system through the use of electronics or other sophisticated mechanical cooling systems. At Debbas, we have always favoured and invested in “passive” cooling where luminaires are designed and constructed in such a way that guarantees the life of the LED through effective thermal management.
When it comes to smart homes, there are a lot of hardware and software innovations that are moving lighting into the “Internet of Things”. Some of these technologies like addressable lighting fixtures or motion detection have been around for a while and were integrated into our offering a long time ago. Other technologies are now beginning to emerge and will likely see widespread commercial application in a few years.
Though I cannot disclose the details of our R&D programs, I can tell you that we are thoroughly looking into the technology behind powering and controlling LED lights remotely and the use of LED light as an efficient communication system.
Ekaruna Could you talk us through the technology behind internet-connected, consumer-oriented lamps and controls that offer customisation of lighting and remote access to the home? How fast is the company starting to adapt this technology to the Lebanese market?
Ziad Debbas The technology behind internet-connected lamps and controls is very simple. Lighting control, as well as dynamic colour or white control, have been around for many years in professional spec-grade luminaires. Today, one can see a plethora of consumer electronics companies, specifically from Asian countries, that have dived into this field. Personally, I see that most of these products are not truly innovative and somewhat more of the latest gadget that will die prematurely. At Debbas, we only adapt to these technologies if it adds value to
our core markets and clients - essentially higher end construction projects, architects, engineers and designers. Our clients need to know the way in which lighting technology can enhance the environment and create greater emotional value into architecture.
Ekaruna Could you explain the concepts of crowdfunding and 3D printing in lighting technology? How is the company adapting to these luminaires trends?
Ziad Debbas I regularly browse crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, out of curiosity and interest. Besides the stupid, cool or revolutionary ideas and product concepts, I am amazed at how transformative this phenomenon has become.
Crowdfunding has the potential to change the venture capital and private equity industry by effectively democratising and disintermediating the whole venture funding process. I believe that we may well be about to witness the gradual marginalisation of established and traditional venture capital organisations and centres such as Silicon Valley - unless they adapt and reinvent themselves.
Crowdfunding will also accelerate and more importantly globalise technological innovation and progress. When it comes to lighting technology, there are very few innovative ideas, and most of them are directed at the consumer market. But, the majority would qualify as gadgets. I keep tabs on Kickstarter though, as it’s likely that a truly innovative and practical product or idea will emerge that would add value to our markets.
3D printing is another exciting field that I have been researching for years. This technology will transform any industry that makes or moves “stuff”, including lighting. Two years ago, Debbas invested in a professional 3D printer for fast prototyping purposes. As you can imagine, it has allowed us to cut our product development cycle dramatically and helped us improve our services and responsiveness in terms of creating custom lighting products for architects and designers.
In a few years, 3D printing technology for mainstream manufacturing - including 3D printing for metals - will become economically viable to lighting manufacturers. The payoff is massive for companies like Debbas, which are result focused and work hard to customise solutions for high-end projects. It will also certainly impact the main OEM (original equipment manufacturer) centres in Asia.
3D printing combined with the power of the Internet will democratise and monetise creativity and intellectual property to
an even greater extent. New revolutionary lighting products will not only come from the “Mercedes-Benz” manufacturers of the lighting industry for instance, but also from a university student in Beirut or Bangalore, who will actually be able to design, produce, market and profitably sell his/her product globally without leaving his dorm room.
At Debbas, a small team of managers often observe and debate how these massive technological waves will impact and disrupt our industry, and how we could benefit and surf these trends early on.
Ekaruna Could you talk to us further about some of the company’s main contracting projects? Is there a specific project you managed that you are particularly proud of?
Ziad Debbas Debbas Contracting is currently involved in several important and prestigious contracting projects in Lebanon and Qatar, including Summerland Kempinski Resort, Sama Beirut Tower and the Doha Convention Center. We are proud of the immense progress towards the completion of the Doha Convention Center, which is a resounding success in terms of quality of its engineering and execution. When it comes to Lighting, I am particularly proud of the Haramain High Speed Rail project - the largest, most complex undertaking executed in our 100 years history. For this landmark venture, we had to engineer, manufacture and deliver bespoke custom lighting fixtures, working closely with renowned architects Foster & Partners and worldclass engineering consultants Dar Al-Handasah. Please find a short video on ‘the making of’ the Haramain project on debbas.com/media.
Ekaruna Are there any new big projects the company is working on in Lebanon or abroad? Could you enlighten our readers with some inside information?
Ziad Debbas Every year, we deliver a number of big projects in more than 20 countries. In 2014, we were awarded large and prestigious projects in Kenya, Nigeria, Qatar, UAE, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Ghana, to name a few. For more details on our current undertakings, visit our website www. debbas.com and subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter where we publish several interesting awarded projects every month.
Ekaruna We understand that the company also delivers bespoke technical and architectural solutions for projects. Is/are there any specific local or international designer(s) that you would love to see collaborate with Debbas?
Ziad Debbas As you know, we collaborate with many local, regional and international designers, particularly in the US, the UK and France. I personally would love to collaborate with Herzog & De Meuron as I am a big fan of their work.
Ekaruna Recently, the Banque du Liban has revamped its Money Museum into the first Lebanese museum to use only LEDs. What are your thoughts on the end result? Would you have done anything differently?
Ziad Debbas I would have to visit the installation first to judge and give you my opinion. All I can say at this point is that good lighting is achieved through a complex mix of art and science, creativity and application of technology. This process is called “lighting design”. And, if BDL Money Museum was designed and realised with a careful lighting design and engineering process, the result must be impressive.
My first recommendation to a project owner or property developer who asks me how he/she can achieve the best lighting is to set aside a budget to hire an independent lighting designer. Independent lighting designers are unique because they combine their deep understanding of architecture, their creativity and their lighting expertise.
Ekaruna What are your thoughts on the state of lighting design education? Do you think there should be more programs in the MENA area designated for the careful study of this aspect of design?
Ziad Debbas Throughout Debbas’s history, we have actively encouraged lighting education in many ways, be it with our internal training projects, and recently under the ‘Debbas Academy’, or through outside programs and support. Three years ago, Debbas helped establish and sponsored the first lighting design course in the MENA region, within the AUB’s (American University of Beirut) Department of Architecture. We certainly hope to see more similar initiatives in the MENA region, and perhaps one day see the emerging of a Masters in Lighting Design similar to some of the degrees offered at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, for instance.
Ekaruna Do you have any advice for emerging students who would like to specialise in art of lighting design?
Ziad Debbas If one is truly passionate and committed to lighting design as a career, I would advise starting his/her education in architecture, and ideally going on with working in the field of architecture for a couple of years. Following the experience, I would recommend they either join a lighting design practice in the region to gain solid experience, or if possible, pursue an advanced degree in lighting design in Europe or North America.
“I PERSONALLY WOULD LOVE TO COLLABORATE WITH HERZOG & DE MEURON AS I AM A BIG FAN OF THEIR WORK.”
Beirut Souks, Lebanon
Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai
Islamic Art Museum, Qatar
Dubai Metro Station
FFP Private Bank, Lebanon