You studied chemical engineering and did a master’s degree in industrial design, plus an MBA. What were your professional ambitions at this time and how do you think your academic background has helped you in your current role at KEF?
I have always been fascinated with creating solutions that solve problems. After finishing my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, I realised I wanted to do something that would help consumers, so I started my master’s in design planning. This business-focused education gave me a different perspective, focusing more on a user-centred ethnographic and system thinking approach. This perspective allowed me to delve deeper into what people want, and to understand how the market is changing and how the different industries are affecting each other, including digital and technological. I also realised how important it is to understand current social and cultural trends, so you are up to date with the latest happenings in your industry.
What makes KEF unique?
There are so many wonderful things that make KEF different. Firstly, we’re a brand with history, and since the day Raymond Cooke founded KEF, we have had a very clear philosophy. As much as the industry changed and the user needs changed, KEF’s philosophy never changed – we continue to pursue the reproduction of the most undistorted natural sound that is faithful to the creators. I sometimes think back to when Raymond started KEF, and he probably would never have imagined that his speakers would be used for movies, let alone gaming!
We also have an amazing R&D team that continues to find innovative ways to stretch the latest boundaries of high-fidelity – I’m very proud of our engineers. We are also constantly challenging the status quo and what high-fidelity means. We were one of the first companies that challenged high-fidelity wireless music systems. We have showcased this with products such as the LS60 Wireless. We believe we can open the market to many more customers, and there are so many technologies and trends emerging that KEF can delve into.
What are the brand’s signature products?
I would say The Reference speakers. These are definitely one of our benchmark products. They are an embodiment of KEF’s philosophy, with their delivery of uncompromising high-fidelity sound – we’ve also now developed the speakers with Metamaterial Absorption Technology. Another signature product I would note is the LSX II Wireless. These compact, all-in-one wireless speakers are a firm favourite for music and design lovers as they come with seamless connectivity options and offer the highest quality sound for their size.
You took the reins of the business in 2017. What changes or milestones have been achieved in this time?
I’m particularly proud that I’ve continued to preserve the very powerful philosophy that Raymond started, and we are continuing to evolve the company to be relevant. We are adapting to the possibility of a much wider market that will enjoy active wireless hi-fi speakers. Hi-fi used to be seen as something quite old-fashioned and only for a select group of enthusiasts, but it doesn’t have to be. With new technologies, we can make immersive high-fidelity experiences more accessible to more people. In some ways, identifying opportunities and gradually changing the organisation towards these new opportunities has been daunting but, at the same time, very rewarding.
How do you see KEF evolving in the near future?
In the near future, we will no longer be just a product company. We’re evolving into a brand that brings together like-minded enthusiasts. For a long time we’ve thought, ‘What is the purpose of KEF?’ And we have nailed it down to the fact that we exist to share the magic of great sound. Our vision is to inspire everyone to listen with intent and believe with confidence. Many people think they cannot distinguish high-fidelity, but often it is simply not having the right exposure to it. Our recent ‘Take it Home’ campaign tries to demystify high-fidelity. Through a series of global listening events, we’re working with interesting creators to provide their communities with a new perspective of high-fidelity by showcasing the music they love to listen to on KEF speakers. This allows the users to be truly immersed in the music.
It is said that 40 per cent of KEF’s business is currently in the US and mainland Europe. How do you plan to attract more business within the UK?
One of our most important projects in the UK is the upcoming launch of the new KEF Music Gallery in London, which we plan to open in spring 2024. The idea of the space is to bring together our partners, retail network, consumers and creators to really listen and believe. So stay tuned!
Do you have a typical KEF client?
A typical KEF client comes in different shapes and forms, but one thing that really ties everyone together is the appreciation for the finer things in life. They could be audio enthusiasts or design enthusiasts, but as long as they have some level of appreciation for music and sound, I would say they are a KEF client.
During the pandemic, many people invested in home technology, including audio, making it an interesting time for KEF. Have you noticed a continued boost in this area?
Within the first two years of Covid, the audio industry had a huge boost, mainly due to people spending more time at home and investing in higher-quality products. Another element is that more people are now paying attention to mindfulness, and high-fidelity music has the ability to transcend and bring people into a different space. During Covid, we could still continue to communicate with our users, which really helped. During this time, a lot of companies were hesitant to introduce new products. However, we chose to introduce products such as the LS50 Wireless II and LS50 Meta, and although it was quite an intense period of time, we decided we should not be sitting on exciting new products and technology.
What is a typical day like for you?
Well, a typical working day for me in the UK usually starts with an early wake-up call so I can catch the early afternoon with my team in Asia. I then head into my London office to meet with my colleagues and spend some time working there before fitting in some exercise in the afternoon. Once I’m home, I spend the rest of my time with my family and sometimes catch up on some emails and reading. Unfortunately, my typical day doesn’t have as much music in it as I would like.
How do you find a healthy work-life balance?
I think about this occasionally and I sometimes ask: what is work-life balance? Is it basically a fixed ratio of time every day? Because for me, I wouldn’t say my life is like that; I don’t really have a rigid work-life balance, but it needs to feel right at different times of the day so I can take care of what needs to be taken care of from a business, personal and family perspective. There are a few things I try my best to always implement, such as eating well, sleeping well, exercising and meeting with friends and family, as well as incorporating some me-time. It’s a fluid schedule!
Finally, what music, podcasts and so on do you like to listen to on KEF equipment?
I listen to podcasts a lot to keep up with things. Other than that, I’m a Netflix binger. I love Korean dramas, as well as the occasional episode of Ted Lasso. In terms of favourite music, I usually listen to music that both relaxes me and brings me joy, such as pop music and UK rock.
Brummell is proud to have joined forces with KEF to launch an exclusive competition in which one lucky Brummell reader will win a pair of Mu7 noise cancelling wireless headphones from the brand. See more here.