Technology so seamless, you don’t ‘see’ it. Yet, the timelessness of its realisation, the superiority of its performance and the rarefied, upper-echelon essence of its fundamental nature, which we know by various names and terms, including ‘beauty’, is, in no uncertain terms, undeniable.
That is what Bang & Olufsen CEO Kristian Tear reveals will define the future of the Denmark-born, world-resounding brand in the future. Except, that aim delineates how it has always done things, since its inception in 1925, when its founders Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen brought into the world the first mass-produced radio unit that could be plugged directly into the wall, sans batteries.
Tear’s approach to how an entity founded on tech can, should and must work for the betterment of the world – aesthetically and functionally – such that it brings a smile to the end user’s face is an antidote to the crassest forms of mercenary capitalism and the no less regressive phenomenon of rose-tinted empty promises that the contemporary consumer faces today. Inspiring, illuminating and instructive, his philosophy is a rule that companies and people should live by.
Doing great, defining work that also makes people smile, and which withstands all the tests of time, can be a profoundly rewarding life calling and business strategy. He reveals the whys and hows below.
You were formerly the VP for EMEA at Logitech. In relation to those territories, is there anything that sets Singapore apart from the rest of the world?
Yes. First of all, it's safe, modern, clean and state-of-the-art, in so many aspects. It's also incredibly diverse. There are other places that have that as well, but not that many. I was speaking about this with my wife, earlier this morning, and we were astonished at the growth that Singapore has made, even in its population. It's really incredible that there's low unemployment here, too. There are some similarities between Singapore and Switzerland – where I live – but I really like it here.
You resumé has seen you rise through the ranks in some of the biggest forces in consumer-facing technology. What inspired you to embark on a career in big tech?
I don't think I wanted to be in big tech. I graduated from the Royal Institute of Technology with a Masters in Science and Mechanical Engineering and I've always liked building things and taking them apart, as well as playing with gadgets. I've ruined a few of my grandmother's watches in the process! But I was more interested in business and making people happy, particularly, in how I could be of service to them. So, a lot of what I did evolved towards that.
In that sense, the company's size never mattered to me. When I was COO of Blackberry, I had 10 000 people working under me, and much bigger budgets. But it's the same: I try to follow my passion, what feels good and where I can contribute. When the call came from Bang & Olufsen, I was doing my own thing and not working for a big company. I've been in love with the brand for a long time. I felt that I can help them with my own background. What we're seeing in front of us is an amazing opportunity that no one else is catering for: Our products are different – we do it differently.
These days, brands go to great lengths to create an experience that starts with the very packaging of their products. Why is that important?
Every stage of the consumer journey is important. What we've been doing is creating magical moments for life. The second that you get in touch with our brand, our ambition is to make that moment magical. From the moment you walk in through that door there, we want you to be welcome in a really nice way. This also extends to you taking the product home and unboxing it. And if you have any problems, that sense of trust will continue in the our service to you, too.
We have more width and breath in our portfolio now, and I want all our products to be seamlessly connected on a horizontal level. That way, customers won't just get to know the brand, they'll fall in love with it.
In your eyes, where is the brand at today?
We have an amazing brand that is well recognised all over the globe. But we need to create more brand awareness. That's why we work with Formula 1 and Fernando Alonso, for example. Where we want to take the brand, in the future, is towards timeless luxury technology. Those three words mean a lot to me. The whole product cycle – pre-sale, post-sale and after-sale – should make you feel good. Those magical moments are what we're after, in a way that is luxurious and timeless. Longevity, modularity and customisability are what we will provide – in a way that nobody else can. We will use better materials, better design and better finishes to make this happen.
Congratulations on Bang & Olufsen’s latest flagship product, the Beosound Theatre. What does that innovation mean to you and how do you think it will affect the sound bar and home theatre landscape?
I think the landscape will be changed dramatically. Now, for the first time, you can bring a beautiful piece of art that produces fantastic sound, and which also functions as decor. Nobody else has created art that plays sound of this quality. You can grow with it, too. You can get bigger screens, over the years, but this sound bar will endure.
It's the one, only and last sound bar that you ever need to buy.
For a brand such as Bang & Olufsen, is superior technology the most important goal?
In our case, the most important goal is to serve our customers and to give them what they want. I believe, that they want luxury and timelessness in design, whether it is simple or modern. Whatever it it is, it's something that they can grow with over a long period of time.
Technology matters, too. But what's equally important is how you can use it, how it interacts with you, and how it becomes so much a part of your life that it is almost hidden away, 'unseen'.
Traditionally, Bang & Olufsen’s competitors have been brands in the same pricing category, such as Bose and Harmon Kardon. What is B&O’s position in relation to newer and more affordable brands such as JBL, Beats by Dre and Sonos?
First of all, we want to break away from black and white plastic in all our consumer electronics, as far as we can. We want to bring out a better performance from our products, not only to justify the higher price, but also to ensure that they last forever. We design and build our products with that aim.
Over the last few years, a collective sense of disillusionment has spread throughout the world in terms of how people perceive monolithic entities such as governments and big corporations. Using Bang & Olufsen as an example, how do you think brands can maintain the trust of the public today?
I think, you need to have credibility from the past, which Bang & Olufsen most certainly does. The world has been asking for the way that we've always done things. Circularity, longevity and personalisation are huge concerns for us. We don't build consumer electronics so that they can be thrown into the wasteland. Our products are engineered so that they can be serviced and repaired – so that they will last.
A high-volume, low-cost product is made with different priorities from ours. We do less – but we do it better.
Lastly, what keeps you inspired to achieve the best for yourself and the company?
I love what I do – I truly enjoy it. The people I work with, the customers I meet, they give me energy. Just meeting you today has given me energy. I like making people happy and making people smile. We have a wonderful opportunity to show the world something beautiful, something that is also better for it. We just need to make the world aware of it. That's what keeps me going.