Geoff Draper started his career when sealed beams were actively being developed. Decades on, he heads for well-earned retirement having positioned and configured GTB for central relevance and steered a complete overhaul of the U.N. Regulations on lighting—tasks it’s difficult to imagine anyone else could have done quite so adroitly. As he’s soon to be spending quite a lot less time talking about car lights, we’re honoured to get his thoughts on a career defined by grand achievements.
DVN: Geoff, congratulations on the great job you have done since your arrival at the head of GTB. How do you feel about leaving your GTB family?
Geoff Draper: I have mixed emotions. Contributing to the work of GTB has been an important focus for me during the past 30 years, and I have been fortunate to have the chance to dedicate my time in retirement to leading GTB for the last 12 years. You will have heard me joking about GTB being my hobby, but it has been a wonderful intellectual challenge and at the same time I have travelled to many parts of the world to increase awareness of GTB. I have developed satisfying personal and professional relationships with regulators and with members of the global lighting family.
Leaving that family was not an easy decision and I know that it will take me time to adapt to full retirement, but I am not feeling sad. My emotion is one of happiness because I have been part of the process to reposition GTB for its important long-term mission. I leave GTB with a solid organisational structure and fit for the future with a newly elected President. Valter Genone starts his mandate on 1 January 2021 and I wish him every success.
DVN: What achievements are you proudest of?
Geoff Draper: As the newly elected GTB President, my first priority was to lead the transformation of GTB into an association that would meet all the requirements to become an NGO with special consultative status awarded by the UN ECOSOC. This was a priority to enable GTB to continue to fully contribute at the UN World forum (WP29 and GRE).
To achieve the NGO status, it was necessary to completely modernise GTB, based upon the creation of a legal association with a new statute and by-laws. We established our association under Italian law in 2011, created a completely new organisational structure, and welcomed new national members from China, Taiwan, and Korea. Our NGO status was confirmed in 2014, and in 2017 we launched our important Strategy Group, currently consisting of 26 senior company executives from Asia, Europe, and the USA, that advises GTB on work priorities and is now sponsoring independent research.
The new status of GTB as an NGO gave us a stronger position at the UN in Geneva and it gave us the credibility to propose a major simplification of the UN Regulations. GTB is the main contributor to the simplification of the UN regulations and provides the secretariat for the GRE Simplification Group. GTB is also involved, through our Chinese member C-GTB, in the simplification of the GB standards.
As lighting technology development gained momentum, the lack of international harmonisation of regulations was presenting barriers to innovation. This led me to take the opportunity to increase the international awareness of GTB by working closely with DVN and by contributing to conferences such as ISAL, IFAL, ALE, and the ACEA Sino-Europe Conference. We also took the opportunity of the presence of GTB in WP29 to establish contacts with government representatives.
I am proud to have guided GTB through this important reorganisation, but I could not have done this without the support of the GTB Members, their delegations, and my colleagues in the Administrative Committee.
DVN: You spent 12 years leading GTB. What were your relations like with the members during the four sessions per year that you spent with them?
Geoff Draper: Firstly, I should explain that GTB is an association of associations, so its members are the 18 national and international associations that each nominate one representative to form the General Assembly. The member associations then have delegates who contribute as experts to the work of GTB committees and working groups. The President is directly accountable to the General Assembly.
There were many difficult debates and objections to resolve as the reform of GTB progressed. As you would expect, the most challenging debates took place in the General Assembly that is responsible for the budget, the statute, and by-laws.
To be honest, it took me some time to learn how to lead a democratic association where the President does not have the same authority as a senior executive would have in a company. Coming from industry I found this particularly challenging as I took difficult and unpopular decisions, and I was obliged to justify my actions to the member delegations. I recall on a couple of occasions being described as a dictator!
Of course, changes in any organisation make people nervous as they do not always understand that it is particularly important that an association, involving competing companies, has to take extreme care to ensure compliance with international competition laws.
I am pleased to say that my relationship with the members and their delegations was friendly and transparent, with everyone encouraged to share their expertise and opinion. On many occasions we argued and eventually found compromises, but there were some issues on which the committees could not reach a consensus and I had to use my casting vote—that was not always appreciated. However, I would like to thank everyone for their strong support and their positive contribution to all the committees and working groups.
DVN: What is the greatest challenge GTB has to manage?
Geoff Draper: The political influences on regulatory policy, and the massive changes in the automotive industry to respond to the environmental, demographic, and automated driving issues, will be the major challenges for GTB.
It is clear that rapid innovation in the automotive lighting and signalling sector will continue and the current regulations will need to be adapted accordingly. However, an industry consensus will be essential to convince regulators at WP29 (including the USA and China) that globally harmonised technical requirements are required if technical barriers to innovation are to be avoided. GTB is well placed to develop the proposals for the technical requirements and by contributing to the work of GRE.
The Covid pandemic has introduced another challenge because the success of GTB depends upon the close networking of its experts who successfully work together despite cultural or language differences. A virtual session cannot be a substitute for the face-to-face meetings where the family feeling of GTB is developed and reinforced with the social evening routinely held during each session. Here GTB has a challenge to reinstate the live sessions as soon as the health considerations will allow.
DVN: Your central message at the 21st DVN Workshop was that governments—China and the USA, especially—must be encouraged to actively contribute to the development of the technical requirements in a common forum. How might that be possible?
Geoff Draper: I believe that GTB and the NGOs representing industrial stakeholders, must jointly develop and submit a proposal to WP29 for a pragmatic approach, to separate the need to develop globally harmonised technical requirements from the politics of the UN 1958 and 1998 agreements. We all know that several efforts to develop GTRs under the UN 1998 agreement have failed and there is no appetite of industry or governments to make another attempt.
As I explained in the DVN Workshop’s regulatory session, Korea and India do not support the reciprocal type approval provisions in the UN 1958 agreement. However, they have already set a precedent by routinely updating their national regulations with the latest technical amendments developed by GRE. This should be part of the rationale of the proposal to WP29, that the work to develop globally harmonised technical requirements should be the responsibility of a GRE informal group ideally jointly chaired by China and USA, with the secretariat provided by GTB.
DVN: After half a century working in lighting, what is your message to the lighting community?
Geoff Draper: GTB has played a key role since 1952 to assist the development of good regulation to support innovation and the improvement of road safety. Now as the pace of automotive lighting innovation increases, the role of GTB becomes even more important.
GTB is unique and the spirit of a global lighting family is something very precious that must be continually encouraged. Obviously, as I am now leaving GTB, the new Administrative Committee (President Valter Genone, Vice President Bart Terburg, and Secretary General Davide Puglisi) will decide how GTB will move forward and I know that they will succeed.
Now, as I leave the lighting family, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the support that everyone has given me.