The Brilliance of Boyd

In a world of big-business home furnishings and cookie-cutter home design, Dorothy Boyd Sweet is an inspiration. A still-hardworking octogenarian at the helm of her family lighting business, she muses on how it all happened.

“They were idyllic summers, so innocent, pleasant and happy,” recalls Sweet of her life in the late ’20s at the family summer home in Kentfield. “Our neighbors had a pool, we had a lighted tennis court and we’d basically live there during the day and they’d come over at night. And my sister and I still talk about Dinah’s Shack on Magnolia in Larkspur. It had the most fabulous chicken and biscuits but somehow nobody remembers it,” she says with a sigh. Sweet leans back in her office chair, surrounded by mementos of Boyd Lighting’s 85 years in the business. “It was a wonderful time.”

Back then, her father, William Boyd, took the ferry and the train into the city to work at his custom lighting shop in downtown San Francisco. This was before the Golden Gate Bridge, his daughter is quick to point out. “When the bridge was built you’d have thought they built it just for my father—he was overjoyed,” Sweet recalls. “So the day it opened we were one of the first to walk across.”

The business actually started back in 1921. Communism was taking hold around the world, Cal defeated Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and in San Francisco William Boyd founded his business manufacturing high-end lighting fixtures and custom crystal chandeliers. “Right off the bat my father was successful,” says Sweet. “Everyone trusted him and he was charismatic.”

Back then she was a student at Stanford and toyed with the idea of getting a job at a local radio station. Her father suggested she instead work for Boyd, launching her career in the family business and making her the first woman to work for the company.

Months later, in November, William passed away. The rest of the family wanted to sell the business, but Dorothy refused, and at 20 years old she took charge. With the help of the rest of the staff, she went from answering phones to working on drilling and riveting as well.

One of her first tasks was helping out with the ongoing war effort—but without the guidance of her father. “We were making hospital trays and when our first shipment went out we loaded them into a delivery truck and I remember Edmund [a family friend and Boyd employee] drove the car away with the entire company cheering.”

This recollection, however, takes a backseat to an even sweeter memory, one made possible by her friend Jane Richmond. “Jane brought a group of us women to the Clift Hotel to socialize with her cousin and nine of his friends.” One of them was Jack Sweet. Jack resembled John Wayne in a pressed lieutenant army uniform. He and Dorothy were instantly taken with each other and their romance endured his three-year deployment to China. In 1945 Jack returned from military duty, they settled into the family home in Kentfield, and he began working on the engineering side at Boyd. They had their only son, Jay, who now lives in Mill Valley with his wife and three sons.

After graduating from Santa Clara University and working in advertising and the wine business, Jay joined the team at Boyd and took the company to the next level by increasing sales and opening a 30,000-square-foot zero-discharge facility (100 percent wastewater recycling) in Colorado.

“I think there’s a big change in our knowledge of energy efficiency in America and with sustainability comes responsibility,” says Jay, now president of the company. In keeping with its pioneering spirit, Boyd was also one of the first in the lighting industry to adopt fluorescent options for decorative and architectural lighting products; a decade before legislation was introduced to phase-out incandescent light bulbs. Currently, the company is providing dimming and fluorescent options for many of its products and hopes to introduce LEDs, a high-efficiency lighting source even greener than CFLs, to its clients within the next year.

As for the lady who led the way, Dorothy still drives to work at Boyd twice a week. The traffic’s gotten really bad, she concedes, but when she crosses the Golden Gate Bridge it’s a memory of her father and how her family business began.