The Making of a CEDIA Fellow

December 04, 2023 The Making of a CEDIA Fellow

It takes a special breed of person to become a CEDIA Fellow—passion for an industry that tends to be a moving target, a knack for speaking the language of many types of contractors (integrators, designers, architects etc.), bravery for exploring new avenues of innovation, and an innate business sense of where the market is heading and how to align with those changes. James Chen, managing director at Kordz, embodies all of these attributes …. and more. Here, James shares a personal glimpse of his upbringing, interests, experiences, relationships and dreams that helped pave the way to his success in the AV industry. 

Q: Have you always had an interest in AV? Was there something in your upbringing that influenced your interest in it?

James Chen: My father was a chemical engineer and fostered in me a knack for maths, physics and science. My mother, on the other hand, was an opera singer, and she encouraged me to study music and the arts from an early age, which led me to learn to play the piano and cello. Through this musical training, I developed a keen ear, which ultimately provided a point of reference when I started designing AV systems. Remarkably, this unfolded when I took up photography in my teens. Eager to earn money to buy camera equipment, I took a job at a local Hi-Fi store in inner Melbourne, Carlton Audio Visual, where I was encouraged to experiment and play with the gear. It instilled in me an interest in good audio and appreciation for the way that quality equipment contributed to an impressive end result.  

By the time I arrived at Melbourne University to study law, my life was full. I was making good money working at the Hi-Fi store, teaching about 30 piano students a week, and shooting wedding photography on the weekends. I began to feel conflicted and confused about my future – questioning where my true passion lay. So, I left university before completing my degree and traveled until I ran out of money, returning to work at a Good Guys appliance store, where I learned how to sell, negotiate and deliver profits. 

Q: What compelled you to get into AV and later to help pioneer a new generation of cabling?

JC: I think every good story and piece of music deserves to be told and reproduced honestly and truthfully. This philosophy turned my interest in good audio into a quest for excellence. I helped launch Benq in Australia and created a market for Whatmough monitors but began to feel the desire to do something for myself. As ideas began forming in my mind, I met David Meyer, the founder of Kordz, in 2007 at the Hong Kong electronics fair. He was looking for a general manager and potential business partner. Cabling felt like a natural next step in my pursuit to preserve as much of the original audio production as possible. Plus, I had experienced my fair share of frustrations dealing with rigid cabling, loose connectors and the many other challenges of AV integration. I was beginning to believe that better cabling was the answer to minimising loss and maintaining the signal chain, and I knew I could drive true innovation in this area, so I was excited to accept David’s offer and join the business.  

Cables are the arteries of any system, and yet their importance is often eclipsed by shiny boxes. They are the longest part of the connectivity chain and vital to ensuring security and reliability. Without quality cables, nothing works. No power, no signal. This is the basis of Kordz’ product engineering.  

And so, my desire to make better sounding audio and easier installation for integrators has manifested into the innovative engineering, design and manufacture of the Kordz product range. This pursuit requires a great deal of genuine attention to detail, with some of the necessary optimisations plain to see, while many others are invisible to the naked eye. 

Q: What fundamentally excites you about the AV business and the cabling business?

JC: The AV business is fun, dynamic and changes quickly. It keeps me on my toes and my mind energised. I’m constantly learning new things and discussing how technology will change for the better, or potentially worse, and how that will affect people. However, AV has also become confusing for many; the constant convergence and divergence of technologies is unfortunately yet to result in consistent performance, or in the willingness of large platforms to meld together for the benefit of the user. Cabling is what brings all the devices together, and I like making things work. I believe that in working together with industry peak bodies like CEDIA, and through Kordz, we can help overcome these challenges. This will ultimately enable AV to deliver greater connection, productivity and happiness in the world. 

Q: What does becoming a CEDIA Fellow mean to you and to what do you attribute the honour?

JC: It was a great honour to be named a CEDIA Fellow. I see CEDIA Fellows as stewards of our industry; a group that has been instrumental in building the integration of today and that will continue to do so for a better future. As I look at the impressive roster of CEDIA Fellows, I find it amazing to be named one and am humbled to be recognised by many of my teachers over the decades. CEDIA Fellows provide consistent contribution over time, leading and guiding others, giving back, and creating a future for others to step into, celebrating the industry and member successes. It is great to be a part of that. 

“People are my inspiration.” – James Chen
James Chen with CEDIA's Amanda Wildman after being awarded the CEDIA Fellow
James Chen with CEDIA’s Amanda Wildman after being awarded the CEDIA Fellow

Q: Were there certain people, situations or discoveries that were particularly inspirational or helpful as you traveled your career path and your induction as a CEDIA Fellow?

JC: Yes, there were many. Rab Turner from Carlton Audio Visual had a significant impact on my foundational thinking and understanding of audio.  

Steve Miller, a former manager of CEDIA in Australia and New Zealand, presented me with many opportunities to develop a voice in the industry and introduced me to many significant influencers. Steve opened the door to international teaching opportunities that I undertook throughout the APAC region.  

Rich Green expanded my thinking substantially and Peter Aylett kept me grounded. They both encouraged me to participate in CEDIA committees, such as the Technology Council, and Kordz’ tagline, ‘Connectivity.Assured’, was first coined at Peter’s kitchen table.  

James Chen (centre) with Peter Aylett and Rich Green
James Chen (centre) with Peter Aylett and Rich Green

Life would never flourish without a supportive partner, my wife and Kordz’ General Manager, Bridget. And it is always a bonus when your father-in-law takes an interest in your business and industry, especially one that has an extensive business background, having run the Levi’s APAC region and been an adviser to many Fortune 500 companies.  

My mother taught me my appreciation for music, the arts and the refined. I gained my scientific and technical abilities and appreciation for the outdoors from my dad. 

Ivan (Binny) Waters was my co-adventurer. A dreamer of the highest magnitude, he showed me how to have great plans, and be a best friend but unfortunately he left us too soon. The loss I felt ultimately taught me that time waits for no one and is our only limited resource.  

Victor Aghtan was introduced to me by Frank DiPiero during my Whatmough days. Victor was the managing director of Westan, one of the larger IT distributors in Australia at the time. I was curious to understand IT and how full-scale distribution could facilitate products in the market cost effectively and at scale. On the other hand, Victor was looking to enter the audio-visual market. He hired me and together we formed and rapidly grew Westan’s consumer electronics division.  

Tom Owens was another CEDIA staff member who entrusted me to expand my teaching repertoire to include business, technology and design modules. I have learned that teaching others allows you to expand and gain knowledge much faster than through simply learning alone.  

Amanda Blennerhassett is a strategic advisor, our Kordz Director of Marketing, and a friend I have known for half my life. At this stage of my career and also building a global company, it has been important to have a strategic thinking partner, a sounding board, and someone who will challenge me honestly in a way that I can listen.  

When you branch out, you need additional arms and legs. For me, this came in the form of Leon Tomasevic and Phil Davis. When Kordz expanded into Europe, we needed help and these two gentlemen and their team have been instrumental in building our brand and operation in the region. 

I first met Greg Parastatidis very early in my career. At that time, he was national sales manager for JVC. When I stepped into the role of MD for Kordz International, I was looking for someone to replace me and run Kordz’ Australian office, and only one name popped into my head—Greg. We have the same values yet different approaches to business, and it works well.  

Eric Bodley and his distribution company, Future Ready Solutions, is pretty much Kordz USA. When you meet someone who has more determination than you, more experience than you, and also more natural abilities than you, then it’s best to just shut up and listen. 

A quick shout out to Frank. You can never build a good company without good supply partners. It’s even better if those partners can see you as more than simply a customer. When you find a good one, things always work out. 

Ben Yeh is my right hand and Kordz Director of Operations. I always like employing people from other fields because they bring a diversity of experience. Ben was a manager at a global bank on an express path to executive leadership. Somehow, I managed to convince him to change careers. He is a true asset to Kordz and the one that turns my designs into the physical products that empower our customers. 

Amanda Wildman for believing in me and nominating me as a CEDIA Fellow. 

Of course, there are so many more people that I would like to thank and whom I greatly admire. You all know who you are and without you, the Kordz business and I would not be where we are today. 

For more views from James Chen on technology, design and their human interface, follow him on LinkedIn.

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