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Jake Dyson plans to light up the family vacuum business

New product categories and industry disruption are part of the heir apparent’s plans.

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Jake Dyson the Heir:

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There was never any doubt in Jake Dyson’s mind that he was going to come back to take over his father’s company, but he had to prove something to himself first.

“I didn’t think it would have been right to come in after sitting on a mountain in the Himalayas writing postcards, if you know what I mean,” he says. “It was important to me to be respected in my own right before entering into that fold.”

The effort to forge his own path took the form of Jake Dyson Lights, an eponymously named company independent from Dyson, the vacuum juggernaut founded by Sir James Dyson. But, just as his father before him, Jake Dyson also set out to upend an industry – in his case, the building illumination business.

More than a decade later, a family reunion of sorts took place last year as the parent company – literally – acquired his business. Jake Dyson Lights became a new category within the larger operation while the son himself, now 43, was anointed heir apparent to a fast-growing firm delivering an expanding range of products.

While his father shows no signs of slowing down at 69, Dyson explains that the window for succession planning had been getting smaller. At 7,500 employees with plans to expand to 12,000 by 2020, taking the reins of the family business was quickly becoming a case of now or never.

“I felt that if I left this any longer it’d be a very, very difficult thing to get my head around,” he says in an interview at the company’s Toronto office. “I could never, ever allow someone to come in and break the company up or damage its reputation. It’s about preservation and it’s part of the family.”

The company has diversified dramatically in Dyson’s time away. Founded by James Dyson in 1991, it quickly became a global force in vacuum cleaners thanks to an innovative design that improved on competing products.

Dyson’s cyclonic motor invention, based on a sawdust-removal machine he had seen in a sawmill, eliminated the need to attach a dust bag to a vacuum. It also held its suction power longer.

The vacuums became a hit and paved the way for expansion into other air-powered products, including hand-dryers, fans and hair dryers. Along the way, James was knighted Sir James for his contributions to British innovation.

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Jake Dyson, left, and his father Sir James Dyson.

Both father and son believe the recently released robot vacuum cleaner, the Dyson 360 Eye, will inform the Malmesbury-based company’s future for the next decade. Under development for 18 years, the machine packs a host of proprietary technologies – including ultra-small motors, a vision-guidance system and a powerful battery – that will fuel a range of new product expansions.

“I can’t really tell you where that will lead us, but you will see over the next years new disruptive things that we’ll release and better technology in our products,” says Dyson, who acts as the company’s research and development director and sits on its board.

He also sees potential in expanding his own veritable baby, with the commercial lighting business ripe for disruption. Dyson, who trained in design, originally ventured into the industry because he saw little improvement happening, and it’s still true today.

Most commercial lighting providers, many of them based in Italy, are focused on “making sculptures” – or fixtures that appear attractive and stylish, but that don’t actually deliver better illumination. Dyson has instead delved into figuring out how use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to create more controllable, natural-looking and energy-efficient lights.

The fruits of his labour are the CSYS desk, clamp and floor lamps, and the Cu-Beam suspended fixtures. Both product lines incorporate LEDs and proprietary heat dispersal technology that confer several advantages. The lights use less energy, are more powerful than competitors’ and last more than 40 years, Dyson says.

Both lines are available to consumers, although like most Dyson products, they’re luxuries. The CSYS desk and clamp lights, for example, cost $849, while the floor lamp runs $1,199.

Dyson is aiming the Cu-Beam line more at commercial buyers – especially at architects. He was in Canada last week meeting with potential clients, but declined to name any since some of the projects are still years away from completion.

“We’re finding the appreciation and understanding of what we do is being really well received by the people who design the buildings,” he says.

Looking ahead, Dyson likes the idea of smart lights and is considering adding connectivity to fixtures, but he’s not a fan of the bulbs being sold by the likes of Phillips. Adding wi-fi to them makes them big and bulky, while the fluorescent nature of bulbs is also outdated.

“We need to move towards more natural,” he says. “I’m not so sure light bulbs are the future.”

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