Name: Kaleo Lee
Title: Vice President of Sales and Business Development
Company: The Audio Visual Company of Hawaii
Location: San Diego, CA
Overtime: Lee hails from Hawaii and likes to “flop around in the surf.” Ironically, he claims to be better at snowboarding than surfing.
Why You Need to Know Him: Kaleo Lee has deep industry roots. His father bought his first AV company in 1978. When Lee was five, his father bought The Audio Visual Company (AVCO) of Hawaii, and Lee spent his entire life around the AV industry. His strong family background combined with his energetic vision for the future and strong leadership skills means Lee is primed for success in the AV world.
But Lee didn’t always want to innovate the AV industry. In fact, just the opposite—spending summers vacuuming the sales floor, cleaning restrooms, and cutting ceiling tiles for AVCO led Lee to believe the industry the business was, well, boring.
In the Army: Growing up, Lee had a strong desire to serve his country, partially due to a fascination with the movie Top Gun. Lee attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ and joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). In class, he was told “No matter what job you do in any of the military branches, we all support the boots on the ground.” Excited by the leadership opportunities offered by “boots on the ground,” Lee saw his counselor that very same day and moved to the Army ROTC, eventually becoming a United States Army Infantry Officer.
On leave before deploying to Iraq in 2008, Lee went, once again, to work for his dad at AVCO. “That’s when I fell in love with the AV,” reminisced Lee. “Like the Army, there’s a textbook way, which everyone should learn, but then there’s what you sometimes have to do in the field. Installations, like combat, are where the art meets the science of your field craft.”
It was during this timeframe that Lee met his wife and had to decide to “fight the biggest battle of all time, or settle down and raise a family.” So, after his service was completed, Lee went into AV full time in 2010.
Fierce Determination: Lee’s dedication to leadership and training only grew after joining the AV industry. He was once the future plans and operations officer for a cavalry unit, and wanted to run AVCO in a similar manner. Lee went to the company president, his dad, and told him he wanted to run the company’s tech department; it took a bit of discussion, but Lee’s wish was granted.
This wasn’t the first time Lee had been in a situation like this, and he was determined to make it work. “Imagine being 22 years old taking charge of 40 hardened soldiers who are both older and more experienced than you are,” Lee said. “Now you have to somehow earn the trust and respect of these 40 beasts of men to do what you want them to do. If you’re a good leader, you can inspire them to want to do it. In AV, I did the same.”
Aloha: Lee works remotely from San Diego, CA, but travels back to the office in Hawaii often. Hawaii is a “special place,” Lee said, but it’s also consistently ranked as “America’s 10 Worst States for Business” by CNBC. Between high operating costs, even higher freight costs, and extreme lead times, AV integration in Hawaii is difficult to say the least. But Lee has found his niche in service and repair—encouraging his team to think local but act global. “We’re very fortunate to belong to an organization like PSNI where we get all this knowledge and mindshare from others—things we wouldn’t learn just being in Hawaii,” he said. “At the same time, the local feel is hard to explain. We like to have fun, we like to hang out with the same people we work with, the same people we’re friends with, and that’s why we have great relationships with our clients."