Who was Gerard Philips? What did he do and what was his significance? Gerard Philips knew what he was doing when he began producing incandescent light bulbs in a vacant factory in Eindhoven - which is now the location of the Philips Museum.
After graduation in Delft as a mechanical engineer, Gerard followed a course in ‘Electric lighting and transmission power’ at the University of Glasgow. At this university he was offered a position in the 1886-1887 Research Group under supervision of Sir William Thomson, who later became Lord Kelvin.
After that, he gained his first experience in business, first in London at the Anglo-American Brush Electric Light Corporation and later in Berlin as an employee of the Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG).
Gerard as entrepeneur Besides being highly educated, Gerard Philips had a hunger for entrepreneurship. Together with his father Frederik he developed a business plan that distinguished itself from other manufacturers. Gerard saw a competitive advantage by focusing on the optimal manufacturing technique for a single product: the carbon-filament lamp.
For other companies, light bulbs were just a part of a larger range of electronic products. Not so for Gerard, he even purchased semi-finished products such as glass bulbs and lamp fittings from third parties.
His approach was highly successful. Within ten years after the founding of Philips on May 15, 1891, it was a formidable competitor for industrial giants such as Siemens & Halske, AEG and General Electric. Throughout his working life Gerard Philips continued his involvement with the quality of manufacturing processes. His adage was: ‘When the quality is there, the quantity comes naturally’.
Research and innovation Gerard had a strong conviction that scientific research was a precondition for innovation and thus for the continuity of the company. He founded Philips Natuurkundig Laboratorium (Philips Research) in 1914. Philips Research was instrumental in broadening the product portfolio of the company beyond lighting.
With R&D in radio and X-ray tubes Philips entered the market of consumer electronics and healthcare. By doing so, Gerard Philips laid the foundation for countless innovations that have improved the lives of people worldwide.
Social entrepeneur Both Gerard and his younger brother Anton - who joined the company's sales department in 1895 - saw the importance of corporate social responsibility. Around 1900, Philips was one of the first companies with free healthcare insurance and payment for sick leave. Employees were also offered good housing through the construction of Philips owned homes.
In 1913, part of the proceeds from the company's IPO was spent on a pension fund. Illustrative of the importance Gerard Philips placed in good education was the foundation of a study fund for employees' children. Thousands of students have benefited from this.
When Gerard stepped down in 1922, he left his brother Anton - who already held a position as equal director since 1912 - a well organized innovative company with a solid financial base, ready for the next phase of expansion.
Exposition ‘Gerard’ On 5 April 2023, the Philips Museum celebrates its 10th anniversary and opens a new exhibition on Gerard Philips on this very day. A temporary exhibition that offers a glimpse into the thoughts and actions of Philips' founder as well as his handwritten notebook from 1893.
With an eye for technology, entrepreneurship and fellow human beings, he was an extraordinary man who, more than 130 years ago, laid the foundations for the innovative company that grew into a global concern.
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