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Meeting of the Minds

Meeting of the Minds

With IDEAL’s impending acquisition of Cree Lighting, which it describes as “a strong technological, cultural, and strategic fit,” the 103-year-old industry leader further embraces a future in lighting.


On March 15, IDEAL Industries, Inc. announced its acquisition of Cree Lighting—an over 30-year-old Durham, NC-based innovator of Wolfspeed® power and radio frequency (RF) semiconductors, lighting-class LEDs—and lighting products for a total of approximately $310 million. Expected to close within the second quarter of 2019, Cree Lighting will become a separate operating division of IDEAL, a company which has specialized in the design and manufacture of products and tools serving the electrical, wire processing, data communications, aerospace, automotive, and construction industries since 1916, and will continue to be led by its current management.

Following the announcement on the impending merger of these two renowned industry leaders, lightED reached out to Jim James, who has led IDEAL as its Chairman and CEO since August 2008, for insights on his company’s interest in Cree, how IDEAL plans to maximize Cree’s success, and what the acquisition means for distributors.


lightED: As a company long known for products like connectors, hand tools, testers, and meters for the electrical and telecommunications industries, what was IDEAL’s interest in entering the lighting market?

James: We’d actually entered the intelligent lighting business several years ago with Audacy, which IDEAL owns, developed, and launched in 2015. Audacy is a wireless lighting control system which immediately simplifies, optimizes, and centralizes an organization’s energy control on the cloud. Audacy is virtually maintenance-free and using batteries that will last up to 25 years. As we assessed the current industry landscape, we believe that the global commercial lighting market is nearing a transformational phase. Building owners, architects, and engineers clearly still want large-scale solutions that are smart, sustainable, and intuitive, but we see them returning to strong brands like Cree that can consistently and dependably deliver superior performance, customer support, and engineering excellence. We expect that with our support and expertise, the Cree team will thrive through these changing market conditions. 

lightED: Why did you specifically pursue Cree Lighting for this acquisition?

James: Cree adds a widely-recognized global brand with a reputation for innovation and a strong product line to our portfolio. Cree also provides the company with a high-performance lighting agency network and sales team, significant manufacturing capability in Racine, Wisconsin, a strong management team and organization, and a large share of the growing global commercial lighting market.

lightED: How will Cree operate within the IDEAL umbrella?

James: The Cree business will continue to operate out of its Durham, NC headquarters, with manufacturing in Italy and a presence in Canada, the U.K., and Hong Kong. Over the past two years, Craig Atwater (Cree’s Senior Vice President and General Manager) and his team have led the organization’s return to operational and engineering excellence. Atwater and his team will ultimately join IDEAL.

lightED: As you look ahead, what is your hope for the acquisition of Cree?

James: We’re very excited to welcome Cree to the IDEAL family. As we see it, we’re acquiring a very special company poised for sustained success, and our job is to help Cree realize its full market potential.

lightED: What message would you like to share with distributors as this acquisition transacts over the coming weeks/months?

James: Both of our companies have complementary supplier, distributor, agent, and customer relationships and this acquisition is a strong technological, cultural, and strategic fit for us. We believe that Cree channel partners and suppliers will experience great confidence in our long-term commitment to the business, its business plan, and its people. IDEAL is committed to supporting Cree Lighting’s strategic plans to greatly expand its global opportunity and category-leading innovation and overall, we believe that this acquisition will create greater opportunity for all of our partners.


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Susan Bloomis a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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