January 28, 2023
You are here:  Home  >  Opinion  >  Editorials  >  Current Article

Sonos visionary hears call to mentor successor


John MacFarlane

In his typically understated way, Sonos founder John MacFarlane has quietly stepped away from his role as chief executive of the Santa Barbara-based audio company.

MacFarlane, who has built one of the largest enterprises in the tech sector on the Central Coast, took to the Sonos blog on Jan. 10 to post the fact that he was designating longtime executive Patrick Spence as his successor.

“There isn’t a person who better embodies Sonos’ values and culture,” MacFarlane wrote. He said he was taking the opportunity to step aside now that streaming has become the new standard for delivering music to a mass audience. “It took longer than we expected but it’s fully here now.”

For Sonos, the move to streaming is a vindication of its long-term strategy to be able to deliver any song to any location within the home at any time.

Though his company’s success has brought competition from Amazon and Google, Sonos continues to hold the high ground when it comes to audio quality and personal experience.

Significantly, MacFarlane, whose pioneering work in audio follows a successful venture in building email software, is not retiring or moving on. He’s going to remain on the payroll as an adviser and mentor to Sonos leadership, which tells me he’ll be driving the company toward more competitive products as the Internet of Things takes hold.

Through the years, Sonos has built a large physical presence on the South Coast and now occupies more real estate than any other company – with a bigger head count as well. As the Downtown Organization of Santa Barbara begins to think about the long-term future of the city core, the presence of Sonos and other tech companies will have to be taken into account.

The community-minded MacFarlane said he’ll expand Sonos’ commitment to STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math education. And he’ll be working to “help create a startup-friendly ecosystem” within the music and tech industries. Some of that commitment will shortly be on display as Sonos is one of the leading corporate partners at Santa Barbara’s new MOXI — The Wolf Museum of Innovation and Exploration on lower State Street.

We’ve seen with many tech companies, notably Apple, that founding CEOs can sometimes have a hard time staying out of the executive suite. But MacFarlane has built a strong team at Sonos and he’s earned the right to a role as mentor, visionary and community leader.

Impressive start for CSUCI president

Speaking of innovative leaders, it has been just slightly more than 100 days since Erika Beck took the helm at CSU Channel Islands.

Beck has been speaking with a number of the stakeholders in our communities and we’ve been impressed by her commitment to making the CI experience successful for its students. She’s also been advancing the atmosphere of innovation that got such a strong start under her predecessor, Dick Rush. And she’s continued his tradition of engaging the community on a number of levels.

We’re impressed at how far she’s come in a short period of time. It reflects well on her as well as on the strong foundation laid by her predecessor.