30 In Their Thirties: Chris Brownell, CEO, Kirlin Lighting, Detroit

Fortunately for Chris Brownell, the recently minted CEO of Kirlin Lighting in Detroit, his rise to the top of the family business was nothing like the HBO series “Succession.”
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Chris Brownell. // Photograph by Trever Long 

Fortunately for Chris Brownell, the recently minted CEO of Kirlin Lighting in Detroit, his rise to the top of the family business was nothing like the HBO series “Succession.”

Unlike the TV show, where the patriarch of the family was reluctant to give up power to any of his children, Brownell’s mother, Jana Kirlin Brownell, now the company’s chair, had to practically plead with her son to join the business.

Kirlin manufactures lighting fixtures and systems with integrated controls for hospitals, schools, transit stations, theater house lights, and some residences. Kirlin’s products can be found at Detroit Opera, the University of Michigan Women’s Hospital, the neonatal intensive care unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and several Corewell Health and Henry Ford Health facilities.

The company also installed the lighting systems in the MRI departments of the top 25 hospitals in the nation. “Every single screw and bolt in that light fixture needs to be non-metallic or else it could impact the MRIs,” Brownell says.

After graduating from Princeton University, Brownell landed a job in New York City doing technology consulting with clients on infrastructure for things like high-frequency (stock) trading and digitizing mundane banking services and protocols.

“I specifically didn’t want to go into the family business,” Brownell says. “If I went right into the family business, I’d have a great job, a great title, and a lot of responsibility, but I’d never know if I deserved it in any meaningful way.”

He started his career as an analyst at CSTechnology, where he stayed from 2013 to 2015. He then became a product manager at Sitehands until late 2017. Following that, he worked as a principal product specialist at PredictSpring Inc.

When Brownell came back to the Detroit area for the Christmas holiday season in 2017, his mother asked him to get his MBA and come to work for Kirlin. He agreed, and got his master’s from Cornell Tech, a New York-based offshoot of Cornell University.

Brownell joined Kirlin in June 2019 as a senior product manager. A year later he was named vice president of sales and marketing, then executive vice president. He became president in 2022 and CEO in February 2024.

“My goal for Kirlin is to continue our head start in spaces like health care, transit, and infrastructure by incorporating the best technology from areas like offices, high-end residential, and retail.”