profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities

No. 52 in a continuing series

Caricatures by

David Lewis

Mark Vassallo

Vice President of Sales, ETC

ETC's vice president of sales Mark Vassallo could be a character out of the David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross - tightly wound, highly attuned, always hungry for the next sales lead. (Not surprisingly, Glengarry Glen Ross is one of Vassallo's favourite movies, which he likes to show to decidedly more restrained European sales professionals).

Trained by American lighting-sales legend Sonny Sonnenfeld in the take-no-prisoners school of big-city sales, Vassallo has risen to be a formidable industry presence in his own right. But beyond the New York intensity and all its colorful expletives is a modest Jersey bred, Italian-American father of four-under-the-age-of-9 who loves his transplanted home in the American Midwest, and who is also a receptive internationalist who follows professional cycling with a passion, and who has, according to one of his European admirers, "a better feel for and understanding of the European market than almost anyone in the industry".

In his current ETC role, which includes a heavy focus on developing the ETC brands and projects in the European market and working with regional sales managers, Vassallo follows his personal business ethos, which resonates in one of his favorite lines:"Is anybody listenin'?" Vassallo believes deeply in a fundamental reciprocity - listen and you get listened to. And that is born out of years of living inside the industry and listening hard, close up.

The son of an artist and amateur-actor father, Vassallo entered this industry after an initial plan to be an actor himself. After small roles in college and some comedy improv in New York City with upcoming actors like Judy Carnes, he discovered that his real interest was on the technical side of entertainment production and particularly lighting. During college at William Patterson University in New Jersey, 1978-80, Vassallo pursued a Theater Tech major and entertained dreams of being a Broadway lighting designer. After taking lessons in lighting design at the Lester Polokov Studio and seeing the magnitude of the student competition, he started to think otherwise.

Parlaying his technical prowess again, he took theatre-electrician jobs throughout the city, including at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (where he endured hundreds of hours of badly acted student exams) and at the prestigious Joe Papps' Public Theatre. As the production electrician at the acclaimed Drama Theatre Julliard at the Julliard School in Lincoln Center between 1983-5, Vassallo met and worked with the likes of American dance- and opera-lighting luminaries Chinault Spence, Paul Gallo, and Craig Miller. Vassallo also hired Bill Gallinghouse (eventual business partner and now ETC's VP of business development and marketing) as house electrician.

Always monitoring the best new technologies, Vassallo purchased a Strand Light Palette for Julliard from Sonny Sonnenfeld. Sonny was so impressed with Vassallo that he coaxed him away to join his lighting sales firm. Gallinghouse followed later. After an apprenticeship with Sonny, which included calling on famous New York theatre professionals with shameless bribes of bagels and donuts, Vassallo and Gallinghouse went on their own in 1987 and started up the Technolight agency. By 1988 they were setting up sales demos citywide.

Vassallo and Gallinghouse are credited with ETC's breakthrough into the critical market of New York City - seizing the market share on Broadway, in the TV industry, and the jewel-in-the-crown, Lincoln Center and its world-famous Metropolitan Opera. (Now, over 90 percent of Broadway and off-Broadway shows employ ETC's Source Four fixtures, Sensor dimmers and various consoles, and major TV productions like Sex in the City, The Sopranos, and Spin City swear by ETC gear.)

ETC CEO Fred Foster ultimately hired Vassallo to run ETC's New York City office, setting him up as the company's Northeast regional sales manager. In the process, Vassallo met his Wisconsin-native wife Michelle at ETC and eventually moved to Madison, Wisconsin. This also began many years of commuting and the introduction of Megan, 9, Tommy, 4, Dylan, 2, and the latest Vassallo model, Olivia, 4 months.

In 1998 ETC appointed Vassallo vice president of sales. He clearly still thrives on competition and the challenge of gaining new markets. He commutes on an even greater scale now, travelling domestically and journeying every few weeks to ETC's European offices in London, Rome, Copenhagen, and the transtechnik Lichtsysteme campus in Holzkirchen, southern Germany. His European colleagues struggle generously to interpret his New York accent and his sometimes intense confrontational style. A style, he concedes, with a genuinely sympathetic laugh, that "still really freaks them out sometimes."

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