Lessons for success from Musco President, CEO

Joe Crookham, 2015

Joe Crookham, 2015

Innovator, community-leader, and philanthropist are some words befitting of this year’s graduation speaker, Chief Executive Officer and President of Musco Lighting, Joe Crookham. The long term resident of Oskaloosa, and current vice chair of the board of trustees of William Penn University, will take the stage to relay his experience and advice on life, business and relationships developed over the years.

For Mahaska County, Musco is a household name. The international company has carved out its niche as the leader in design and manufacturing of sports-lighting systems. The man behind the company is Crookham, who alongside his partner Myron Gordin took ablaze the niche industry.

Musco’s name has been behind major events and places in today’s culture. From Superbowls to Olympics and Hollywood movies, the company’s scientific accomplishments and awards have showcased how much its contributions are deeply embedded in modern culture and operations. Undoubtedly, Crookham and Musco’s success have set an example for the region as a homegrown company with a strong international appeal and economic impact.

For Crookham, a key moment in the company’s rise to prominence would be lighting the University of Notre Dame in 1982, where Musco revolutionized the industry by lighting the stadium via light fixtures mounted on trucks. Moments like that are what made Musco into what it is now.

Success is Not Solo: Build Relationships

Much of the success of the company is credited to Crookham’s sharp ability to foster bonds beyond business. Crookham adamantly believes in the importance of building long-standing relationships. Teamwork is Crookham’s fundamental doctrine.

Someone who knows well and has witnessed Crookham’s seamless passion of developing genuine connections is John Ottoson, president of William Penn University, who associates Crookham’s emphasis on relationships to his success.

“With Joe, it’s all about relationships. As a businessman, he doesn’t want to go into business unless, it’s a beneficial relationship to everybody. It’s not just I win, you lose, it’s we’re in this together, it’s how do we win,” Ottosson said.

Crookham is self-effacing as he discussed a vast network of contacts and business deals that have allowed the company access to prestigious places, such as the White House. Additionally, having met dignitaries ranging from Queen Elisabeth II, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein of Jordan, Crookham sees past the titles and connects with the core person. He also emphasizes the importance of building earnest and honest relationships, not based on material gain, but for the sake of self-betterment.

This directly connects with Crookham’s strong belief in the idea of “STREAM,” a derivative of STEM and STEAM. STREAM stands for Science Technology Relationship Engineering Arts and Mathematics. Crookham echoes the importance of a well-rounded education that strives to build relationships.

One such relationship Crookham developed is with fellow Penn board of Trustees member, retired Commander of the U.S. Central Command, General Tommy Franks. The relationship arose from their participation and his eventual appointment as a member of the National Recreation and Park Foundation.

“That’s how I met Tom Franks, because he was on the board. We just met people hiking in national parks together. And we became good friends,” Crookham said.

Then there’s the time Musco lit the White House. The deal came after Musco donated a lighting system to the Washington Monument. The subsequent result was a request by then First Lady, Laura Bush, to relight the historical presidential home.

“Laura [Bush] came out to me and said, if you can do that with the national monument, how about coming out to the White House and seeing what you can do? And Laura is not someone you say no to. And that’s how we ended up lighting the White House,” said Crookham.

Crookham relayed that such opportunities were a means to connect with the people behind the prestigious titles.

“Getting to know so many nice people in an environment where you understand that they are just good people first and then they happen to have taken on [titles],” Crookham said.


Joe Crookham, General Tommy Franks, King Abdulla II ibn al-Hussein of Jordan taken during Four Star Leadership program. Both King Abdulla and Joe Crookham spoke at the Leadership Institute.


Crookham’s wife Jeanie Bieri, Cathy Franks and King Abdullah at Leadership Institute

Crookham’s wife Jeanie Bieri, Cathy Franks and King Abdullah at Leadership Institute

Opposites Attract: The Best in Partnerships

Musco’s success is in part built on the business relationships developed, which for some further grow into partnerships. One such partnership that laid the foundation of the powerhouse company, started in Muscatine, with Myron Gordin, his partner. The company had its start in 1976 when Crookham and Gordin bought the inoperative Muscatine Lighting Manufacturing company. It went on to pioneer lighting technology for recreational sports facilities and residential areas.

According to Crookham, his partner and him clashed at first due to their different approaches. However, the differences fostered a benefit: visionary balance. By utilizing Gordin’s engineering and technical skills, and Crookham’s marketing and sales prowess, the pair struck harmonious and creative gold.

“We realized the magic of it [our partnership],” Crookham said of his long-standing partner, Gordin.

Crookham has garnered numerous other partnerships. Stemming from his love of sports and education, Crookham has been an active member of Little League Foundation board. Alongside, cultivating sportsmanship among the young athletes, Crookham created an initiative to promote safety through what he has called A Safety Awareness Program (ASAP). Programs like ASAP also use another quality Crookham has displayed: giving back to others.

Success is a Legacy of Giving Back

According to Ottosoon, Crookham’s service often flies under the radar and for those that don’t know him, may not know the extent to his goodwill.

“If you don’t know Joe, you might not know just how good of a heart he has, and what he does to try and help out, in ways he will never tell,” Ottosson said.

The legacy of Crookham and Musco can be traced back to key moments in history that have tested humanity. At the aftermath of the Twin Tower attacks, Musco responded rapidly by providing lighting for the recovery efforts. The same was done in the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building terrorist bombing.

Similarly, Crookham and the Musco team have assessed and supported unchartered territories in need, such as Kimisagaro, a highly populated area of Kigali, Rwanda, where a lighting donation was provided so neighborhood children could have opportunities to play.

Never Stop Learning: A Life of Education

As a pillar of success and experience, Crookham is still tackling an issue college students and graduates across the nation and world face: life’s next chapter.

“I haven’t figured out yet what I want to do when I grow up. The world is filled with so many opportunities and challenges. Continue to grow. I believe you are either growing or dying, so continue to grow,” Crookham said.

Crookham plans to use graduation as a platform to impart his experience and advice to graduates. For him, education is of upmost importance.

“I like the learning process,” Crookham said.

For this reason, according to Ottosson, Musco’s CEO was the easy choice to speak at graduation.

“Where we hold the graduation at the Penn Activity Center (PAC), if it wasn’t for Joe, we wouldn’t have it, or the Musco Technology Center. No one deserves that honor more than Joe. But at the same time, he has such great life advice. It’s a pretty unique opportunity,” Ottosson said.

One aspect that Crookham might reiterate is the importance of having an active and honest approach to success.

“Luck is when preparation plus opportunity meet,” Crookham said.

Building relationships, partnerships, having an appreciation for growing and learning are fundamental to laying the foundation to a company’s profitable culture. The same could be said for life in general.

Success is undeniably delightful, however, Crookham simply emphasizes that the journey to success should be as well.

The 2015 Commencement Ceremony will be held Saturday, May 9 at 10:00 a.m. at the PAC.


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