Beyond Changing Lightbulbs

ESTHER M. SANTOS, BBA ‘01
GENERAL MANAGER, NORIBACHI HARBOR CITY, CALIFORNIA

BY BOB WOODS

How many university of miami School of Business graduates does it take to change a lightbulb? In the case of Esther M. Santos (BBA ’01), the answer is one – and she’s the one.

No, Santos does not literally change lightbulbs at Noribachi, a privately held tech company in Harbor City, California, but she’s leading the charge to shake up the lighting industry as general manager of the company.

Noribachi, launched in 2008, is rapidly increasing its presence in the $25-billion global market for LED (lightemitting diode) lighting for commercial and industrial customers, part of the revolution supplanting traditional incandescent lights. (The Department of Energy estimates that LEDs will represent 74% of all lighting sold in the U.S. by 2020.)

GE and Philips are the major players in the marketplace, “but we are disrupting the industry with our Bespoke Engineered and Specifically Tailored (BEST) LED lighting products. History has proven that when you go from analog to digital, major disruption occurs. Blockbuster and Kodak can attest to this,” Santos says. Noribachi’s revenues, she reports, should reach $40 million in Beyond Changing Lightbulbs Esthe r M. Santos, BBA ‘01 General Manage r, Noribachi Harbor City, California By Bob Woods Bright light Esther Santos is helping disrupt the LED lighting industry at Noribachi, which is on track for $40 million in revenues this year.

2015 – nearly double last year’s. Santos, a marketing major, considered staying in her native Miami after graduation, but an on-campus interview with Toyota Motor Sales, Inc. resulted in a job in the automaker’s Los Angeles offices, where she eventually became district manager, working in business development and creative marketing. “A group vice president I worked for at Lexus had retired and was an investor in Noribachi and told me they were hiring salespeople,” she said. “So I started as a salesperson in 2010 and worked my way up.”

Transitioning from a huge corporation to a 150-employee startup has given Santos more professional freedom. “At Toyota, if I had an idea on how to better serve our customers, I had to have a conversation with at least 15 different people. I enjoy having the ability to control my own ideas, implement them and see if they work.”

That’s what Santos has the freedom to do at Noribachi. Most of her ideas have worked, such as boosting business in health care, manufacturing, entertainment, hazardous environments and other markets the company serves – including automotive – by starting an indirect sales effort through independent manufacturing representatives and resellers. Some ideas haven’t worked. For example, she used to prefer doing things on her own before recognizing the power of collaboration. “I’ve learned to appreciate the benefits of working with other people on projects,” she says.

While she’s held a variety of positions, today Santos focuses on special projects, including leading Noribachi’s direct and indirect LED sales efforts in the hazardous environments sector, which target oil rigs, grain silos, mines and other dangerous places where proper lighting is critical.

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