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Last Update: Thursday July 29, 2021

Key Idea: Shift From Doing To Leading

To grow, the founder has to let others take responsibility.  David Milly is a great leader because he respects the people he has hired and he gives them the tools they need to succeed.

Key Question:


Stop doing everything yourself.

Q: How did David make the transition?

A: Painfully. He said he had to force himself to send other people out to do projects even though he always thought he could do a better job himself. This thinking that, "I can do it better than others" is the reason that companies don't grow. Assuming you have a viable business model, if you keep doing and don't learn to lead others, you will stay small. And, that is perfectly fine. The wonderful thing about owning your own business is you get to decide if you want it to be a one-person, or 20-person, or 100-person place. Having a partnership with Janet from the beginning tells us that the two were already pre-disposed to the idea that others can be taught and lead.

Think about it

What are you doing now that you can teach others to do? Hint: Anything that repeats, teach.

Clip from: Theatrical Lighting

Huntsville, Alabama: Meet David Milly.  When he was a student at University of Alabama at Huntsville, he earned money booking entertainment and dances for his school. From his first booking, Earl Scruggs Review, a country-bluegrass band (of Deliverance fame), he knew this was what he wanted to do.

To book the lighting package for the show, he engaged Luna Tech, a sole proprietor, and they struck up a friendship. By the time he graduated in 1975 they had a partnership and then they formed a corporation to protect themselves from the liability involved with manufacturing and creating pyrotechnic special effects. David was initially a 25% stockholder in the business, yet by 1981 he negotiated a buyout of just the lighting division to be on his own.  That's a story, but this one just gets better.

At that time there was no trade association for the lighting industry. In 1987 a few of the fellows started one, Theatrical Dealers Association, and David was quick to join and serve on the board. He initiated a Small Business Development Committee. Today this national association is known as ESTA or the Entertainment Services and Technology Association. 

David has also been an active member of the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau for three decades. In this episode of the show you will meet all kinds of people who love Huntsville, who love Janet and David Milly, and love the stuff of making their community a great place to live.

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Theatrical Lighting Systems

David Milly, CEP / founder

1221 Jordon Lane
P.O. Box 2646
Huntsville, AL 35804

Visit our web site:

Office: 256-533-7025

Business Classification:
Lighting Supplies

Year Founded: 1981

Shift From Doing To Leading

HATTIE: David, you said, `I'm not a lighting guy. I'm a businessman.' Didn't you say that to me?

DAVID: Yes, I did. Yes, I did.

HATTIE: OK. All right, what does that mean, `I'm not a lighting guy. I'm a businessman'?

DAVID: Well, I mean, I look at my role with the company. I more run the business than actually go out and do the lighting, which is what our product that we sell is.

HATTIE: At what point, though--you've done this almost 20 years. At what point did you realize, `Oh, my gosh. I'm a businessman'?

DAVID: Well, as a company starts to grow--well, in the beginning, you did everything. You did the lighting. You ran the business. But at a point that it started to grow, I felt like I needed to be here managing and not me out there doing the lighting projects.

HATTIE: But some people who stay really small--I mean, you have 30-some employees now, $4 million in revenue. Some people who stay really small, maybe this is a piece of advice that we could get from you for them, and that is at some point, you said, `I'm just going to have to hire a person to do this crew chief thing.'

DAVID: Even though nobody could do it as well as I could do it, I had to force myself to send other people out doing projects. And I felt like maybe what I did best was run the business, and that what the people I hired, what they could do best was to do the lighting part of it. You have to be able to hire people that you trust to do the job that you're hiring them to do. That was probably one of the things that's been hard for me to do is because I'm a hands-on kind of person, and it's been hard to delegate, give people responsibility and authority to go do those things. It's still hard for me to do that.


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