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Outstanding Contribution: in-depth with Greg Jeffreys

Installation sits down with the winner of this year's Outstanding Contribution award, Greg Jeffreys, for a personal take on his career, the industry, and the longer term impacts of Covid-19 in AV

How did you first get involved in the AV marketplace? 

By a common route mistake: I’m a failed musician. I studied music at Dartington, played with bands for a couple of years, then got a part-time job. This company invested in an AV product and I got hooked on making rear projection displays as part of that. 

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

For me, the big things are not technology, they are more cultural. 

My profile as an AV newbie was not untypical; UK AV comprised engineers and creative types, inventing an industry as we went along. I think of Bob Simpson and Electrosonic working out of low-key premises in SE London and ending up creating an influential and global organisation – as just one example. The UK AV industry used to be really parochial, suspicious of InfoComm/AVIXA (or ICIA as it was then). Now we’re part of a recognised global industry.

But the biggest change is the move from us being a ‘nice to have’ supplier of fancy boardrooms or cultural installations to becoming an essential part of the entire economic fabric – as the current changes driven by post-lockdown needs bear witness.

What personal, professional achievements are you most proud of? 

My work in standards and my roles in InfoComm/AVIXA, the latter of which came from the former. 

Not having a degree, in the early 2000s I was surprised to be asked to act as visiting lecturer at UMIST to write a module on projected displays for a post-graduate degree. This was but one indicator of great gaps in standards and best practices concerning AV systems and, ultimately, user experience. I was selling fancy, expensive rear projection materials and didn’t have the numbers to prove it. I don’t know what it was, but whatever it was it was a one-way street and I’ve been writing, consulting, managing, researching in standards, projection, lighting and space design in one form or another ever since. From this year I’m chairing AVIXA’s Standards Steering Committee, which I’m just loving.

My work in standards led to leadership roles in InfoComm, and I’m proud to have been our first non-US president, in 2012. I served a number of board roles, which I loved to bits. I never worked so hard, and underlined the pleasure and personal development I’ve gained from volunteering. 

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

In general, I’ve lived by the mantra that what goes around, comes around, which overall has worked, with the exception of a couple of spectacular own-goals.

I’ve been helped by getting some lucky breaks at random and unforeseen moments. Sometimes I’ve been smart enough to realise this in time to pick it up and run with it as fast as my little legs would carry me.

Businesses I’ve worked with: I don’t think I’d lay claim to anything special here. I think I’m a team player and I get a lot of pleasure in working with clever and committed people, which I hope I convey adequately.

The wider industry: Back to AV standards!

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 right now? 

Firstly, AV being fully recognised as the skilled and standalone profession it really is and, secondly, arising from the first, AV being pulled into project teams too late in the project planning process. 

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

The impact has been massive and the aftershocks will rumble on indefinitely. We’re lucky enough to be small and nimble in Visual Displays. The empathetic business style evolving is closer to my natural style and it warms my heart to see such support and warmth – and truly crap and inappropriate humour! – in my dealings, on social media and from the leadership of AVIXA.

This situation is horrible and frightening. I’m aware, seeing the massive imbalances in the impact of the pandemic across the world, the shocking complacencies exposed by Black Lives Matter, those exponential graphs plotting the pandemic, on how privileged a life I’ve been blessed to be born into, on how vulnerable it all is.

I think the AV industry will be just fine, thank you very much. But it won’t ever be the same again.

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

Engaging with user needs, business and organisational processes; being less intoxicated with technology.

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

Social distancing. Multi-location engagement of roomfuls and individuals. Cost.

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

Welcome to our messy world! Find something you’re good at, by good old trial and error. Then work at getting better and better at it, until you’re an acknowledged expert.

Quickfire Q&A 

Who’s had the greatest influence on your career?
Bob Simpson, Electrosonic. Clever, influential, massively generous in his view and mentoring of others, of which I’m just one. Terry Friesenborg, AVIXA. Mentored me into InfoComm, supported my early standards initiatives. Karsten Solaas, Out-Growers. Made me realise I could use my creative skills in building businesses.

Who did/do you look up to as a role model professionally?
See the above.

How do you measure success?
That has changed during my life. Now: having a sustainable business which affords me personal quiet time, time with my family, time with my friends.

What’s your biggest professional regret?
Not knowing the above as a younger man.

If you were a teenager today, what profession would you go into?
Writing and academia.