Noel Lee (executive)
|Born||December 25, 1948
|Occupation||CEO of Monster Inc.|
Noel Lee (born December 25, 1948) is an American business person and engineer. He is the current CEO of Monster Inc. Lee graduated from California Polytechnic State University with a Bachelors degree in mechanical engineering, before doing work in laser fusion for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Lee quit his engineering job in 1972 to play drums for a country rock band. After the band separated, he founded Monster Cable Products in 1979 based on loudspeaker cable he invented and manufactured in his garage.
Lee's audio cables met resistance at first, because most audio cabling at the time was lamp wire provided by audio vendors for free. But sales picked up as retailers witnessed audio demonstrations and saw that his Monster-branded cables offered better profit margins than other electronics products. Lee is credited with building the Monster business and shaping today’s audio components market.
Noel Lee was born in San Francisco, CA to Chein-San and Sarah Lee. His father worked for China's Central News Agency. Lee had four sisters. His parents moved to San Francisco from China when the Communist Party took power. He took interest in music as a child and married when he was 18 years old. Lee attended college at San Francisco City College, then at Cal Poly, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1971. Noel Lee's first job was at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. There he was exposed to toxic doses of radiation, which caused a degenerative nerve disorder that prevents him from walking without a wheelchair or Segway.
In 1972, Lee quit his job as an engineer to play drums for a country-rock cover band called Asian Wood. The band moved to Waikiki, Hawaii for a job, but due to a misunderstanding about the type of music they played, they were fired. The band learned more popular songs and continued working in Hawaii for a year and a half at bars and hotels. After the band broke up, Lee continued doing solo gigs for six months, before returning to the Bay Area for an engineering job with Lawrence Berkeley Lab. He wanted to improve the audio from his music equipment. Lee didn't have very much money, so he experimented at home with ways to create a better sound by improving inexpensive cabling. According to Lee, the work at Lawrence Berkeley was boring, and he quit six months later.
In 1978, Lee and his family moved to the Richmond district in San Francisco, into a two-car garage they rented from his in-laws. Lee, an audiophile, wanted to work for an audio company, but they wouldn't hire him, because he was over-qualified. Working out of the garage, Lee began experimenting with different widths, winding methods, and qualities of copper and insulation in audio cables to find an alternative to the lamp cable audio vendors gave out for free. He compared different wire constructs, while listening to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
Noel Lee founded Monster (formerly known as Monster Cable Products) in 1979 based on cabling he created in his garage. He manufactured the cable by hand on a ping pong table and sold it door-to-door. According to Lee, he started the company without business experience or a strategy.
He met resistance, because the audio industry at the time didn't believe cables made an audible difference in the sound and wire was something that was normally provided for free. Lee did demonstrations at retailers comparing the two cables to convince consumers that expensive equipment was wasted on cheap wiring. He spent $50,000 in personal savings to do his demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Chicago in 1979, using a borrowed portion of someone else's exhibit area.
By the next CES, Lee had an order from a Canadian supplier for 30,000 cables. Sales picked up as retailers saw the wiring as an opportunity for higher profit margins. This led Lee to provide incentives to retail salespeople to sell the cabling, rather than spend money on advertising, which led to criticisms that his business model creates aggressive salespeople. He kept the company private and grew the business. Lee calls himself the "Head Monster" and calls the company culture the "Monster Attitude." The company, while still best known for audio wiring, now carries 6,000 different products, such as headphones and home theater components.
Lee is credited with turning the audio cable industry into a "profitable cottage industry" and with changing the consumer mindset to see audio cables as a way to improve sound. He was awarded the Plus X Lifetime Achievement Award for his role in shaping a market and was named Northern California Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young.
In 2004, Lee bought the rights to the San Francisco 49ers football stadium, which was renamed to Monster Park. Citizens and local government protested that a public facility adopted a corporate name and a local ballot was passed to revert the stadium name after the four-year deal with Monster expired.
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