SCN Hall of Fame 2021: Joe Pham

Joe Pham SCN Hall of Fame 2021
(Image credit: Future)

Joe Pham, president and CEO of QSC, wanted to be a rock star.

Watch the video below to learn more about Joe Pham.

Still, even while trying to make that happen with his band in high school, he was drawn to the technology that made the shows possible. “Beyond being a rock star, I wanted to an AV professional—but back then the only AV role I knew was the front of house engineer,” says Pham. “While I was in high school I started taking classes at the local community college in recording and sound engineering. I wanted to be a front of house engineer!”

Joe Pham, QSC

Joe Pham

Instead of going on tour, Pham went to UCLA and got his PhD in electrical engineering and wound up staying at the university for 11 years, eventually teaching as a professor before leaving to join McKinsey & Company, where he worked with chief executives of Fortune 500 companies to develop growth strategies and improve operations.

Seems like quite a career leap in comparison to those original aspirations, but he would make a similar move when he left McKinsey to join QSC as chief strategy and technology officer in 2004.

“I tend to go deep with my obsessions,” states Pham. “The good thing is they're all healthy obsessions! Toward the end of my UCLA career in the late ’90s, the business world was taking off with the rise of internet companies like Amazon. I started getting into what these companies were doing and was infatuated with their business. I decided at that point that I wanted to move on to the business world. McKinsey & Company is a great firm—the more I learned about McKinsey, the more I wanted to join them.”

Eventually, Pham’s love of music—or obsession, as he would describe it—left him wanting to become a part of it. So he left McKinsey with the goal of getting a job in the music industry, talking his way on to the trade-only show floor of Winter NAMM to make it happen.

“I found a great guy—Rob Walker—at NAMM to help me with whom I'm still connected to this day,” remembers Pham. “I went to the NAMM Show with a list of all the CEOs in the audio industry. I walked around looking at name tags, which is how I met Barry Andrews, then the CEO of QSC. That chance meeting led to a series of conversations, which led to me joining QSC in April of 2004.”

That description makes it sound like it was easy, but at that time there weren’t any open positions at QSC. However, the conversation at NAMM led to a coffee meeting, which led to Pham submitting to Andrews a 50-page report with his perspective of the AV industry (that McKinsey experience coming in handy).

“Eventually Barry offered me a job, which I respectfully declined,” says Pham. “I asked him I could come back with a proposal. I worked around the clock for 10 days and came back with a 100-page proposal. Barry flipped through it and he said that it was a lot of work. And I said to him, ‘Well, this is important,’ and that was the beginning of a great relationship between me and the QSC founders that eventually led to me joining QSC. It's just been an amazing journey.”

Once there, Pham rose up the ranks quickly. In 2007, he was promoted to chief operating officer, and in 2010 he assumed his current role of president and CEO. He also works closely with AVIXA, serving on the Board of Directors, and recently completed his term as chairman.

“The caliber of people on the AVIXA Board are phenomenal, and the conversations that we have around the industry are very thoughtful, diverse, and strategic,” says Pham. “They help make me a better CEO at QSC.”

Pham’s work with AVIXA extends to InfoComm, where in 2019 he delivered a crowd-favorite presentation called “The Infinity Stones of AV.” He likened the industry to the Infinity Stones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and explained the six sources of power.

A year later, when revisiting that presentation in current times, Pham still believes in the thesis he presented. “Those first five Infinity Stones are solid, starting with the talent and the people,” he says. “The new perspective I would have from the InfoComm presentation of 2019 is this pace of change that we have always talked about has certainly accelerated in 2020. We've gone through five-plus years of change condensed into nine months.”

The sixth stone was left open as something that still has to be revealed, and while we are not quite there yet, Pham now has an idea of what it could be. “I would hypothesize that the sixth stone is going to be related back to human connection,” he says. “It will be technology-based, but it's going to get us back to connecting as human beings. The one thing that we've shown in 2020 is, even though we have great technology for collaboration and a remote global workforce, the social trends are going to point us back to the reality that, at a fundamental level, we need to connect as individuals. I don't know what set of technologies will emerge, but their outcome will be aimed at igniting genuine human connection.”

Looking back at his long career, following a string of obsessions, Pham has no regrets. Well, maybe one: “In the ’90s I owned Amazon stock, and, like an idiot in their 20s, when it went up enough to profit maybe $200 or $300, I sold it.”

READ MORE: SCN Hall of Fame 2021

Anthony Savona is vice president of content creation at Future U.S. He writes and edits stories for Systems Contractor News, Residential Systems, and TWICE, amongst others.