Q&A: Pete Borchetta, General Manager, Altman Lighting

Lighting industry veteran Pete Borchetta has worn many hats in the theatrical and architectural sectors, from designer, consultant, and product innovation manager to professor at Adelphi University, working with such greats as Carmine DeLavallade, Geoffrey Holder, Gregory Hines, Vanessa Redgrave, Gelsey Kirkland, and Max Roach to name a few. His credits and awards include: The Historical Preservation Society Architectural Design Award for his lighting of Harkins Hall at Providence College; The Engineering Excellence Award for the Freedom Ring with Robert Lorelli, and he is a member of the Theata Alpha Phi (National Theatre Arts Fraternity), USITT, IESNA, and is a Black Friar’s Fellowship Recipient. His newest hat, which he started wearing March 2021, is that of general manager at Altman Lighting, having joined the company in 2015 as product manager, then taking on the mantle of VP production innovation in 2020.

Live Design: Can you briefly discuss your career path to date, what brought you to the head of Altman Lighting? 

Pete Borchetta: I began in theatre at a young age and truly fell in love with what lighting brought into performance, but know that for me it all began with a detention for tying in a dimmer rack. I was a freshman in high school, and was instructed to wait for the electrician to tie in the rack.  I was so excited to work with the lights that I ended up doing a live tie in at 13 years old, with no sparks or arc’s I was good to go.. well until the faculty found out. Working with lighting through high school I was lucky enough to have parents that supported me with any career path that I chose.

I was introduced to Michael Scoville who was the master electrician on Lend me a Tenor on Broadway. He took time out of his days to show me what it took to do lighting on Broadway; this was the point at which I decided that lighting was the career for me.  I attended a small liberal arts school in Providence, RI. and studied Theatre Designs and Technology from all aspects. and then went on to do as all graduates do – find work, and then find more work, make connections, and build a reputation. 

Though a lot of hard work I landed a job at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY, where after a few years headed up Design Technology as the technical director and lighting designer to an incredible BFA  program. During this time I also worked as a Lighting consultant for Robert Lorelli Associates on Long Island. Both of these positions allowed me to design and design a lot. I was surrounded by incredible artists from students to professionals daily. After almost 20 years at Adelphi and way too many productions and consultancy projects under my belt, it was time to make a change as I had a young family that I rarely saw as I was consistently in production or on the road.

I was offered a position at Genlyte Strand as regional sales manager. One day out of the blue I received a call from Steve Carson of Genlyte; he had called about a project that I was working on as a consultant, and at that time he had just acquired Strand Lighting. Steve is a very smart man who has a knack for feeling out people. He called to discuss a problem and noted that the issue was mine and not his. For a few weeks I fought him tooth and nail, and stood my ground with every thing that he threw at me. Later that week he called and offered me a regional sales manager job. I noted that I wasn't a salesman and that I knew nothing about the sales channels and so forth— his reply is that he was looking for someone that was passionate about lighting.

At that point in my life I needed something a bit more stable. My wife and I had a little girl who was growing up behind a tech table and was out late at night while my wife and I worked late hours. Fast forward a few years as I was then offered the product manager role a Philips Entertainment—Strand and Selecon. We moved to Texas, and for about seven years I was the PM, learning about manufacturing processes, product deliverables and so on.  Honestly it was very much like the theatre production work I had done in my past life At that point a dear old friend gave me a call; Nick Champion, VP of Sales/Marketing at Altman, looking to see if I wanted a change of pace. (Nick and I had worked together at Strand in our previous lives). At Altman not only was I hired to over see product development, but also all of the R and D. Over the years we developed a lot of products, and had a lot of fun doing it as we worked very closely with our customers and collaborated to create each one.

 A turning point was the departure of our previous GM, when much of the daily work load fell onto my shoulders and was split between Russell Altman and myself. At this time we began orchestrating how the relocation of the factory would happen (from Yonkers NY to Denver, Colorado) as I was a part of the Strand relocation. This one was a task I was ready for; we planned, planned, and planned some more, and then a global pandemic hit…

After a lot of work, logistical moves, and incredible team and customer support, we opened the plant in Colorado. At this point most of my day-to-day was working with each of the teams of sales, production, and engineering. It was at this point that I was offered the GM position and am honored to be a part of a spectacular collaborative team.

LD: How has lighting technology changed the most in recent years, generally or specifically at Altman? 

PMB: I almost feel that this can be a part of Billy Joel song (patterned to “We Didn’t Start The Fire”): LED’s, IOT, RDM, Wireless DMX, Near field, Ethernet, Gui touch screens, Vectorworks, GDTF, Remote Phos. laser light...

All kidding aside, the biggest change has been the savvy of lighting professionals and students. It wasn’t long ago that gel changes during a performance were needed to ensure color consistency through the performance (I note a cut of R80 in a 2K Fresnel…).

Today, a lighting designer has color at their finger tips, we  better understand efficacy, and how to read not only the purity of white light but how best to maintain DUV when mixing. All of this knowledge helps us as the creator of the tools to better create the tool (lighting instrument ) that is needed. It is not about counting the bristles on the paint brush but creating the paint brush that can be used to design. Altman lighting has been a first in many regards with much of this technology from our beginnings with RDM to some of the first theatrical use cases for LEDs. As the technology gets better, more robust, and more reliable the implementation to our products becomes that much more critical. 

At the end of the day, we still need to remember that there is an LD sitting behind a tech table, creating art using the tools that you provide. As much as technology has changed, the art hasn’t, and it is key that we continually collaborate and work with our customers and endusers to create the tools that they need to design.

LD: Altman is an industry standard, family-run for many decades.... How does a company like that not rest on its laurels and keep up-to-date with trends and technology?

PMB: At Altman we are very passionate about lighting, and because of this passion we continue to drive forward to push the limits and develop products around what our customers both require and need, and all of this through collaboration.Trends and technology will continue to move all industries forward. It is our job to help foster those technologies into the product that only help the customer to better create. We have an incredible passionate team that on daily basis looks to push the envelope of technology while keeping an eye on cost. At the end of the day we can make an incredible product but if is made out of unobtainium and costs too much then what was the point. Two of the key company’s mottos  are “Progress in Process” and “Keep Moving Forward”. (which is also one of my favorite Walt Disney and Martin Luther King Jr. quotes).

LD: How did the pandemic impact the company?

PMB: From 2018 to early 2020, we had plans put together for the move of the factory. We had gantt charts, spread sheets, logistics companies, riggers, material movers, a new building in CO. All getting ready to begin a 10-12 month process of moving. It was going to be great,  never a time where there were shortages or pipe line issues. A perfectly planned move….

On March 13, 2020 (Friday the 13!), I should have known then… but the first truck rolled out with all of the engineering lab gear as well as some of the smaller production machinery and test equipment. Immediately following this truck leaving we were then instructed to shut down in Yonkers. Over the weekend our teams from NY, Texas, and Colorado, got on the phone and we began to reformulate our move tactics. It took about a week to reformulate and we threw away much of the aforementioned Gantt charts and paperwork and escalated the move of the company from the one-year cross over to four months. We figured that this pandemic was going to be some time. We were able to bring in our staff in NY at which we ramped up production for all of our A and B product lines, and once complete either shipped out to customers or were building stock for Colorado. At this point we were getting CO. up and running, getting staff trained, many driving out to CO from NY or TX to ensure the safety and well being of our employees. It was the passion, drive, collaboration, and ingenuity, as well as the understanding from our customers, that we were able to pull this off.  We, as all companies, did pivot during this time frame and got into a number of new markets to help supplement the loss of the entertainment side of the business. But we also used this time to better our relationships, develop products, and create a “new” Altman in Denver.

LD: What is your five-year vision for Altman?

PMB: Where do I see Altman in five years? This an interesting question as our current warranty is five years AND one DAY….(because a lot can happen in a day).

Continuing to collaborate and listen to our customers, continuing to create incredible new products, and most of all continuing to be a part of one of the most incredible industries in the world. A world where we get to be a huge part of the art that is created daily. A world where we get to work with the incredible talent in this lighting world, from students to professionals everyday. As we all know we are only as good as the last thing we have done so make it great. We will continue to strive forward, to push boundaries, and most of all We will always continue to listen, to collaborate, to help create, and even further Support, create, innovate, and listen.

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