Chuck Swoboda Grew Cree to Become a $1.6 Billion Market Leader. Now He’s Written a Book on the Anatomy of Innovation
By Scott Kitun
When Chuck Swoboda was hired at electronics manufacturer Cree in 1993, household light bulbs came mostly in two flavors: incandescent and fluorescent. The company had just gone public and generated just over $6 million in annual revenue. But the product that would grow the company into a $1.6 billion global market leader –– the LED light bulb –– were virtually light years away from becoming a popular, affordable option. Even when he took on the role of CEO of Durham, North Carolina-based Cree in 2001, LEDs were a hard sell. “Everyone told me that nobody would buy them,” Chuck says. “Lighting companies told me we’ll never need them because what they had was good enough.” But “good enough” isn’t in Chuck’s vocabulary. By the time he left Cree in 2016, Goldman Sachs reported that “the rapid adoption of LEDs in lighting marks one of the fastest technology shifts in human history.” Today, Chuck splits his time between Cary, North Carolina and Milwaukee, where he serves as the Innovator-in-Chief at his (and Scott’s) alma mater, Marquette University and hosts its “Innovators on Tap” podcast.