Careers in Motion: Jeremy Bridge, BSc (Eng)’05
By Deb Cummings
President of Calgary loudspeaker company PK Sound
In our series, Careers in Motion, we bring you interviews with alumni who are innovators, thought leaders and experts in their field. From entrepreneurs and financiers to people in the film industry, architecture and law, you will find illuminating insights from all-star professionals in this monthly slot in our newsletter.
This month, our featured alumnus is chemical engineering grad Jeremy Bridge, whose love of sound predates his DJ days at UCalgary. In the R&D room at his 14,000-sq.-ft. Calgary warehouse, Bridge explains that PK stands for “nothing . . . we just liked the letters and it had a good Google search,” and that the genesis of the company began when a group of buddies who loved electronic music and weeklong parties decided they were fed up with fixing speakers. As president of PK Sound, Bridge says the company got its first break by providing speakers to the Shambhala Music Festival. Today, PK is the speaker of choice at numerous massive venues including the Electric Daisy Carnival in Mexico City, as well as Insomnia in Las Vegas that caters to an audience of 140,000 people and can require up to 270 speakers.
When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?
I didn’t. My mom did. As a kid, I as always building some LEGO contraption or a tree fort or lighting things on fire. So, yes, I guess I was always building and fixing things. But I didn’t start my degree until I was 25. I had operated a car-audio shop for a few years and decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do and that I needed a career that would let me do whatever I wanted. Engineering has done that.
Was UCalgary’s program tough?
I was a mature student who was focused on getting it done, not hanging out — but, yeah, it was challenging. Actually, I had recurring nightmares that lasted for years . . . I would wake up and think I had failed an exam and that I’d never get my engineering degree. This persisted until my late 30s.
What did you do after graduation?
Well, I became a “real” engineer at Spartan Controls and then later at Alta Gas. I did the whole downtown oil-and-gas thing and learned a lot. But the downtown thing just didn’t fit me. So, a few of us [PK employs four other UCalgary engineering grads] sat down in 2009 and decided to stop treating PK as a hobby and do it full-steam.
How did you scale up?
It was all organic. Because we were all involved in the music community and had some cred through Shambhala, and because social media was blowing up at the time, we were able to connect with fans that started requesting PK speakers, so a tidy circle formed.
I know from this tour that your speakers are made from Baltic Birch but what’s the technology behind these speakers?
In terms of technology, we have the world’s only patented Trinity sound system that changes the shape of the sound field. Robotics in the loudspeakers alter the shape and sound to any size of audience in any facility, indoors or outside. But you don’t get that technology without passion and love. Our speakers are built by people who are super-passionate about music.
I know you have engineers, assemblers and cabinetmakers on your staff of 22, but what qualities are you looking for when hiring?
I am looking for self-starters. Not necessarily entrepreneurs, but for people who have done something for themselves . . . say, they built a computer chip. I want people who will take something and add their flare and run with it. At PK, you have a lot of space to do that.
What are some key questions you ask during an interview?
Actually, I hate giving interviews. Laszlo Bock [former senior VP] of Google says that, in an hour-long interview, most interviewers have made up their minds within a minute. I believe that’s true due to how our brains work. As soon as you meet somebody, you get a feeling from them and then all the questions or how you interpret the answers is just validating that position. Because of this, I’ve been toying with the idea of having managers not hire their employees — of assigning a committee. Another thing that Laszlo writes about is that every hire has to bring some unique skill or attribute to the team . . . something that nobody else has. Perhaps you have someone who is really great at inventing things, someone who is awesome at organization and someone who is very detail-oriented — that’s what forms a good team.
Any other tips you employ during the interview process?
I often tell people that I am going to call a reference who is not on their list. I just open the interview by saying that I am going to pick someone from their resume, but not their reference list, and that seems to level the playing field and elicit more honest answers.
Who are your heroes?
Can I list the Dalai Lama . . . he’s a pretty cool dude. I am also a huge Google fan because I think they really understand how to engage a workforce. On a very small scale, I have tried to do things like them. For three years, we had a lunch program at PK where a professional chef made us a hot lunch and we sat around a table like a family and told fart jokes. And, for a while, we had a yoga teacher come in — we’ve lost them both to travels, but I’d like to do start something else up.
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