Celebrating the Skylights: Coffee break with Lisa Sun, Gravitas

Lisa Sun, president and CEO of Gravitas, shares insights on making innovation an everyday occurrence.
Published On
Jun 15, 2021

Lisa Sun is the founder and CEO of Gravitas, a New York City-based company that has demonstrably set itself apart in the world of fashion with patented innovations and stylish solutions in women’s apparel. She is a highly sought-after keynote speaker, with messages borne of her own life and business experiences.

Taking any service-related business to a higher level of achievement truly requires innovation. While the word “innovation” may feel like one of the most wearisome terms in the present-day vocabulary of business, Sun has recharged it with powerfully refreshing ideas on how to successfully innovate just about any business.

We jumped at an opportunity to sit down, take off our COVID masks and enjoy a virtual coffee break with her.

Your background is not in construction. But electrical contractors can respect and absorb your advice about innovation simply because you’ve found remarkable success in a tough and demanding industry and continue to improve.

I think everyone’s in a tough business. Every industry is demanding. But the more important point is you cannot change it from a position of weakness. You have to begin by taking stock of your organization’s unique strengths and talents, and then work outward from there. The word “pivot” is defined as a central point on which we make turns, not the turns themselves. We make the best moves around a strong core.

We expend much effort in our column encouraging contractors to step up their game in service and maintenance. That calls for innovation and introducing new ways of operating.

OK, but everyone needs to lower the bar with their definition of innovation. Instead of tectonic shifts, we should be looking for tiny, incremental changes to the status quo. In the process, you can turn innovation into a way of operating that an organization follows every day by always being ready to try new things and never being afraid of making mistakes. Think of it as being just like building a muscle.

In electrical contracting, whether it’s new construction or service-related business, we often equate innovation with the adoption of new kinds of products, tools and equipment and the physical processes associated with them. You have spoken of innovation in “nonoperational” activities.

That’s right. Every area of your business, from HR to service, is ready for innovation. For example, you can innovate, so to speak, with storytelling. Imagine a scenario in which you allow your customers to learn the positive impact their business has on individual members of your team. Share the story of the members of your workforce who outsiders might never see. Tell the story of the folks who work behind the scenes to ensure that your customers are always served properly and know what a difference their business makes in your team’s lives. We’ve done that at Gravitas, and amazingly, customers contacted us to express their deep gratitude for the efforts of people they never see.

That sounds like a great way to inspire increasing loyalty from your customers.

It is. Just remember, your best customers are your existing customers. Of course, you have to attract new customers. But in your effort to innovate, think in terms of your existing customers first. Building loyalty and repeat business oftentimes creates the most value.

We like what you say about making innovation a daily habit. But, in our experience, some innovation demands more time, money and consensus-building.

We agree. At Gravitas we manage two types. There’s the speedboat version and the aircraft carrier type. One is easier to turn about; the other is not. It takes both kinds. In the challenging times that we have all experienced over the past many months in the midst of the pandemic, we’ve used speedboat innovation to great advantage. As an example, we produced much-needed hospital gowns and face masks in April 2020 when there was a dire shortage of them.

Once upon a time, you left a promising position in a top-tier consulting firm, took a year off to circle the globe to gather your thoughts, and landed back in New York to open a firm that continues to win acclaim. From that vantage point, what else would you share with our readers?

Entrepreneurship has no light at the end of the tunnel. There are just skylights along the way. It’s not about finding the light at the end. That’s not why I do what I do. It’s about celebrating the skylights along the way.

About the Author

Andrew P. McCoy and Fred Sargent

SARGENT is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at fred@sargent.com. MCCOY is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and department head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson...

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