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Former Employees, Rep Firm Describe Universal Douglas Situation

Publisher’s Note: tED magazine reached out to Universal Douglas and Atar Partners with three phone calls and two emails days before publishing this article. We have yet to receive a response. In fairness, we will provide a completely separate article on this topic in the event either the company or the private equity firm wishes to answer our questions.

If you go to the Universal Douglas website ( it appears the lighting and controls companies are fully operational. You can “explore products,” “explore solutions,” browse complete lighting systems with both controls and fixtures, or search through a catalog of retrofit kits. If you didn’t know about what happened on Wednesday, March 22 when Universal Douglas ceased operations and sent nearly all employees home, the website would lead you to believe Universal Douglas is operating “business as usual.”

In fact, Alan Schutz, owner of Ascend Sales and Marketing, told tED magazine how the situation unfolded at two recent trade shows, the Turtle & Hughes Sales Summit and Supplier Expo March 19-21 and LEDucation March 19-20, where representatives from Universal Douglas were manning an exhibitor booth at both events. Schutz told tED magazine in one case, the person running the booth at the Turtle event went to his room to change his clothes for a dinner meeting and found out he was fired.

“So in some areas, 15-plus-year employees were shown their loyalties were not valued,” a former employee who wishes to remain anonymous told tED. He added some people were given no severance after being told they were let go. “It was a complete surprise to the entire staff in Burnaby (Canada).”

Russell Maine, a Director of Project Management for Universal Douglas, confirmed to tED magazine that he received no severance after being told he no longer had a job.

“The closure was, for the most part, a complete surprise,” Maine reported to tED.

Maine believes a series of events over the last 6 to 8 weeks involving Universal Douglas, private equity firm Atar Capital, which bought the company back in March of 2021, and financial institutions resulted in a loss of funding. As a result, Maine says past due invoices were not being paid, and he was being told about it by component suppliers.

“I was contacted many times, along with others, about past due invoices and the potential of our suppliers to stop shipping components,” Maine said. Maine added that he does not believe any Universal Douglas products are being shipped because no workers are allowed into the plant, but he doesn’t know that for sure since he is no longer employed.

Just a little more than six months ago, on September 14, 2022, Universal Douglas announced that it named Paul Tudor as the new President and CEO.

Just 5 days after that, on September 19, 2022, Universal Douglas announced a strategic partnership with 16500, a leading commercial lighting distributor based in the San Francisco Bay area. 16500 is known for selling high technology and innovative products throughout Northern California, and in the press release to announce the partnership, said it was “thrilled” to partner with Universal Douglas.

In a conversation with tED magazine on March 22, 16500 told us that Universal Douglas did not reach out personally to let them know at any time about a potential cease in operations. In fact, a representative at 16500 told tED the only correspondence the company received from its partner was an email with a copy of a report from an online lighting trade news organization that announced the closure.

Schutz’s manufacturer’s rep firm specializes in retrofit projects. He says Universal Douglas owes him about $10,000 in past due invoices, which he doesn’t expect to receive but says he will survive without it.

While he repeatedly shared his concern to tED magazine about the 1,000 or so Universal Douglas employees, he also has an employee of his own whose “main account was the Universal side. We brought her on to manage the Universal customer service perspective. 90% of her salary was from Universal,” Schutz said.

Schutz added that he has already found a replacement line, but that the employee will probably need months to recover her immediate lost income. He said when business was solid, Universal provided about 15% of Ascend’s total income. Schutz pointed out that the Atar Capital website, which highlights on its home page the “Art of POSSIBLE,” removed Universal Douglas from its portfolio on the day it announced it was ceasing operations.

Schutz calls what happened to his employee “heartless”, and he is doing all he can to help his friends and colleagues from Universal Douglas.

“There are many long-term employees, 20 to 50 years for most of their lives invested in the company,” Maine added. “We all stayed to the end, gave it all that we had to support the company. What Atar did to these workers and myself was horrific. Pardon my frustration, but they could not have possibly done anything less for the workers.”


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