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Meet the Pro AV Power 20: Owen Ellis (No.7)

In June this year, Installation revealed its first ever Pro AV Power 20 list, rounding up the most inspiring and influential figures from across the pro AV market. To get to know them a little better, we sat down with each of our Pro AV Power 20 inductees for an in-depth chat.

#7: Owen Ellis, chairman, AV User Group
AV User Group Meeting at Bloomberg London: Sophie Ward Photography

How did you first get involved in the AV marketplace? 

I was introduced to one of the founding directors of Metrovideo through a school friend and got offered a job.

What would you say are the most significant changes/developments to have taken place in the industry during your time? 

That’s tough as there have been so many over those 34 years. The introduction of video projection that eventually phased out slide projection fade and dissolve shows. Just consider where that market eventually went from CRT to LCD, DLP and now laser, soft edge blending, and physical mapping (buildings, etc). The flat panel display obviously replacing CRT was a massive step forward. The transition from analogue to digital, and then to IP and enabling AV on the network. And I’m sure many others I’ve already forgotten!

What personal and professional achievements are you most proud of? 

Most significantly the AV User Group. Firstly, the growth under my leadership from being just a London-based group with a membership of around 70 to an international presence now operating in six locations with more coming online and a membership of more than 1,600. And secondly transitioning in late 2017 from a purely volunteer organisation to a professional group which I now run full time.

I’m also very proud of a number of the very significant projects I delivered at Morgan Stanley which included the first network connected global standard AV rooms with remote support roll out way back in 2004/5 which became an industry benchmark for over a decade, as well as the many new office fit-out projects in London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and Mumbai.

Do you have a philosophy that you live by professionally? If so, what is it and how has it helped you in your career, the businesses you’ve worked with, and the wider industry? 

Not so much a philosophy; I’m very self-motivated, have a positive ‘can do’ attitude and get great satisfaction from the things I achieve. I’m also very process oriented. However, I am really motivated to make a positive contribution to an industry I love; i.e. ‘giving back’ and I’ve really been able to achieve that through the AV User Group. My self-motivation, attitude and process focus have obviously helped with my career progression.

I have no doubt I benefited the businesses I worked for. The global standards we delivered at Morgan Stanley were held up as an industry benchmark for many years, and although I can’t take full responsibility for the whole project as I was a significant and integral part of that team and its success.

As far as benefitting the wider industry is concerned, I would cite the Morgan Stanley standard again but also running the AV User Group as a volunteer for seven years and expanding into the Americas (New York) and Asia (Hong Kong) whilst still in my full time role (executive director) at Morgan Stanley. And then obviously what’s been achieved with the group subsequently.

Prior to the outbreak of the global pandemic, what would you say were the biggest areas of technological or operational challenge for the AV industry? 

Technological: standardisation. Operational: the lack of new talent coming into AV whilst the industry continued to grow.

What impact has the pandemic had on you and your business, and what do you think will be the longer term impact of this extraordinary period on our sector?  

The impact has been a mixture of immediate revenue impact but also to our events. Our main operating model was in-person events/meetings to enable member peer networking and engagement with the supply chain through presentations and networking events. These have all been impacted since the pandemic began and we’ve had to change our model to deliver the benefit through webinars. However, we have had to challenge some of the webinar best practice guidelines to make this approach work and provide our membership the value that is so important.

What needs to change in the industry? What do we as a community need to get better at? 

Standardisation. Improving and increasing the influx of new talent into AV, to do a better job of marketing and raising awareness of our industry to people outside of AV. 

In your opinion, what will be the biggest driver(s) of change for the AV market in the next five years? 

It’s almost impossible to predict as the technology moves so fast. We do not know what we’ll be dealing with inside five years right now. Remember facial recognition? It was said we wouldn’t be able to do that for five to ten years and then we were doing it two years later!

Based on what we do know today I expect that machine learning/automation (what is referred to as AI) is probably likely to have the most impact. Especially as we come out of this pandemic where health and cleanliness become a priority and we challenge existing technologies like ‘touch’ and the industry looks to use AI technologies to replace these with voice activation/control, and so on.

Finally, what would be your message to those starting out their careers in the AV community? 

Network and enjoy yourself. Networking is the most valuable thing we can do for opening opportunities and personal development, but it is also such a great industry with such a welcoming and community spirit, why wouldn’t you?

Quickfire round

Who’s had the greatest influence on your career? 

Women! Specifically, Tina Kemp and Geraldine Scher. 

Who did/do you look up to as a role model professionally? 

Probably Terry Friesenborg before he retired from InfoComm/AVIXA, but generally not one person specifically. I’m inspired by the achievements of many others and find that motivating.

How do you measure success?

Personal happiness, flexibility, freedom, being able to contribute back to the industry.

What’s your biggest professional regret? 

I don’t have one. All the choices I’ve made were based on circumstances at the time and I’ve never looked back and regretted any. I generally don’t look back anyway, I’m more of a forward looking person.

If you were a teenager today, what profession would you go into? 

I can’t imagine doing anything else, and with the diversity of opportunities in AV I’d be even more compelled today. However, if I had to choose something else it would be working with animals in some capacity.