David Hopkins was recently named chairman of the executive committee of PLASA, the UK's industry organization. The Welsh-born Hopkins owns Audio Design Services Ltd, which specializes in loudspeakers and PA systems. Hopkins recently spoke to Ellen Lampert-Gréaux about his career and his work with PLASA.
ELG: How did you get involved in this industry?
DH: I started out as a post office engineer working on telephone systems, and moved from South Wales to Manchester, England, as a manager of Pye Philips Group. After three years I decided to start my own firm and eventually graduated into manufacturing of loudspeakers and public address systems in 1976.
ELG: What was the technology like in those days?
DH: Loudspeakers had been screwed into ceiling installations, but we started to use a spring system with a platform. This speeded up installation time as well as ease of repair. We also designed wooden speaker cabinets for use wherever the spoken word needed to be heard. Today the design and engineering are done in the UK and the manufacturing is done in China, where we have a small joint venture. It's very exciting; today the technology follows the concepts and the imagination.
ELG: Did you concentrate in any one area?
DH: We specialized in public address systems for hostile environments, even chemical plants. We made systems that were vandal-resistant, using steel membranes to protect the components. The irony of it all is that people damage loudspeakers that are put in place to be used for public safety.
ELG: Where are these kinds of public safety systems used?
DH: They should be installed everywhere, from leisure centers to shopping malls. They should be reliable and serve as warning and evacuation systems in case of emergency.
ELG: How did you get involved with PLASA?
DH: I was active with SCIF, the Sound and Communication Industry Federation. That organization joined forces with PLASA about eight years ago. I was on the board of SCIF and transferred over. The breadth of the organization is one of the great things about PLASA. It embraces a whole community of people. Yet I think we should never sacrifice quality and expand just for expansion's sake. Growth for growth's sake can be fatal. We are looking for growth that can be constructive, and to build a sturdy base brick by brick.
ELG: How does the public address industry fit in with the entertainment industry?
DH: The problems of merger between SCIF and PLASA were more perceived than real. PLASA needed a wider base and sometimes it's good to look over the garden wall and see what's going on outside. I go out to visit lots of companies in the entertainment business to see how it all works and how the systems go together and to create a bridge between the two sides of the business.
ELG: Do you have specific goals for PLASA?
DH: I am very keen on training. Businesses used to have apprenticeships where people were trained at an early age and had long careers. Today nothing is as permanent. I think it is vital to teach basic skills, from electronics to specialization. I often think PLASA should talk to people outside of the industry, especially in terms of standards, and let the world know what we are doing.
ELG: How does the mantle of chairman feel on your shoulders?
DH: I wanted to be chairman and feel that every chairman has something different to offer. I hope I can make a positive contribution, and especially continue to improve services to our members. At the end of the day, it's our duty to make things easier for people in business and provide services that individuals cannot get or afford on their own. It's like a priceless necklace. Each company is a jewel and PLASA is the strand and the clasp that holds it all together and gives it the value.
ELG: I noticed the letters OBE (Order of the British Empire) after your name. That must be quite an honor.
DH: Queen Elizabeth awarded me the OBE in 1987. Mrs. Thatcher, who was Prime Minister at the time, had recommended me for the decoration on a recommendation from the Department of Employment. The award was twofold, firstly having started a local job club for unemployed people, offering training and counseling for people contemplating going into business for themselves. The second part was a scheme I called “Adopt a School.” This involved introducing commerce and industry into two local schools and vice versa. Part of the scheme meant talking to senior pupils about business and conducting mock interviews. To be awarded the Order of the British Empire by the Queen at Buckingham Palace seemed to be too much for something that gave me more pleasure than most people get from indulging in their favorite hobby.