Fluence falling more into the sphere of its parent company

Aug. 31, 2023
New co-leaders and chief financial officer all wear the Signify badge. Former CEO David Cohen resurfaces at a robotics packaging company for horticulture.

Horticultural lighting vendor Fluence has operated as its own business out of Austin, Texas in the sixteen months since Holland’s Signify acquired it. But the Signify influence is now strengthening. The Dutch giant has quietly installed its own top agricultural lighting chief to help run the outfit.

The appointments of Signify’s Michiel van Dam and Jhawn Newman as interim co-bosses followed the under-the-radar resignation in March of former CEO David Cohen, who ran the company for five years dating back to when Osram owned it. Osram sold Fluence to Signify in May 2022. Since that time, Fluence has continued to sell under its own banner, while Signify’s Horticulture LED Solutions has continued running a separate business with the Philips brand. 

“David announced his departure from Fluence in March,” a Signify spokesperson confirmed for LEDs Magazine. “Based on his decision to pursue other interests, Michiel van Dam and Jhawn Newman have co-led Fluence while a search for his replacement is underway. Michiel leads Signify’s agricultural lighting businesses and Jhawn is the Fluence post-merger integration leader.” 

Newman is also a Signify Americas vice president of systems, and has been with the company for nine years, according to his LinkedIn page. 

Van Dam’s and Newman’s appointments bring the number of Signify arrivals into the Fluence executive suite to at least three in the previous 10 months. In another quiet move, Rene Reumkens last November joined Fluence as chief financial officer, a few months before Cohen’s departure as CEO. Reumkens’ bio on the Fluence website describes him as a nearly 30-year Signify veteran of “a variety of finance management roles” and as a specialist in transformations, mergers, and acquisitions. Most recently he had been the financial lead on the integration of Fluence and of Cooper Lighting Solutions. Signify acquired Cooper in March 2020.

New job

Former CEO Cohen resurfaced this week as CEO of Dove Co-Pack, a Webster, New Yorkbased provider of automated packaging gear for controlled environment agriculture.

It is not clear why he left Fluence. In his five years at Fluence starting in 2018 around the time Osram acquired it, he oversaw breakneck growth paying particular attention to the cannabis trade. The rapid expansion was apparent by late 2021 when Signify announced it was buying Fluence from Osram, and the company had racked up sales of $141 million in the twelve months of October 2020 through September 2021, a huge leap from earlier.

But business has stalled over the last year as it has for the horticulture lighting industry in general, including Signify’s Philips brand.

“When I was hired in 2018 and told that Fluence shouldn’t be a $20 million company but a $100 million company, I did not realize the ride I was about to get on and how incredibly fast we would get there,” Cohen wrote in a farewell post on LinkedIn in March. “Within eight months, we hit triple digits in revenue and have not stopped our crazy momentum. First in the U.S., then Canada, then throughout EMEA and APAC. Wherever in the world there is indoor cultivation, there is Fluence, and I could not be prouder to have been part of that accomplishment.”

The reference to the global geographical territories is notable, because there had been hints that Fluence and Signify’s Horticulture LED Solutions have clashed over how to divide global markets between them. While Fluence was from the onset expected to focus on North America and Signify on Europe, some amount of competition between the groups seemed inevitable, as Signify acknowledged early on that both entities would also continue to sell globally, including outside of their focus areas. As recently as February, Fluence heralded its presence in Portugal. Last summer it trumpeted deals through a reseller to supply three cannabis growers in Israel.

As CEO of Fluence, Cohen was a visible leader known for his candid assessments of the horticultural lighting business in his “Fluence Unfiltered” series of YouTube conversations with industry figures. In one of those episodes in January, he remarked in regards to the cannabis sector, “We’re seeing monumental changes negatively almost at the same rate or faster than we were seeing monumental changes positively at the beginning of COVID”. In another episode last summer, he criticized the lack of federal legalization and banking legislation related to cannabis

The fall-off in horticultural business across the industry probably played a role in Cohen’s leaving, with Signify central likely trying to assert more control to help business recover, or possibly with Cohen simply taking a break. 

Last month, Signify CEO Eric Rondolat described a “missed season” in horticulture and cited it as a main factor in a second-quarter corporate earnings plunge.

“This year, given the price of energy, the projects that we are normally able to capture in that business were not implemented by the customers,” he told financial analysts at the time. “So it’s a season that is missed because of the high energy costs, and that will not be recovered this year.” Growers have put off purchases because high energy prices have discouraged them from bringing in electric lighting, he said.

During a web call with the analysts, he also said that Signify would be making “structural changes” and would be trimming central management. He did not elaborate on what the “structural changes” would be, and which divisions they might affect.

Signify is not saying whether such changes would involve Fluence. 

“No further information regarding a new CEO is available at this time,” the Signify spokesperson replied this week in response to LEDs' inquiries about management changes and whether Signify will be weaving Fluence more into Signify operations. “Fluence continues to be a business unit with its own strong brand under Signify’s Agriculture Lighting group as announced at the time of the acquisition by Signify. Fluence will continue to leverage Signify’s scale and strengths as the global lighting leader in order to further enhance its position as a leading LED solution supplier in the horticultural market.”

A Fluence spokesperson gave an open-ended response.

“There are no further updates at this time,” he said.

More changes seem to be afoot. Whether they are strictly personnel related, or have more structural implications, you could say they will be "Signifycant."

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.