Meet Tala CEO, Eric Magun
Joining Tala in February 2020, CEO Eric Magun has contended with a global pandemic, transatlantic timezones and a variety of product launches. Here, he describes his approach to leadership, his punk spirit and his thoughts on the evolution of lighting.
Can you tell us about your journey into the lighting world?
My father bought a small lamp company when I was in grade school. He would take off to the Far East to buy hand-painted porcelain pots and then wire them up as lamps. He quickly became known as the “porcelain king”. What intrigued me most was his journeys to foreign countries to source and procure their art and turn it into commercial success back home. I quickly learned that having the vision of what other people would buy was the magic of a real businessman.
I didn’t start my career wanting to be in lighting. Instead my creative chops led me to the New York Film Academy where I met my Italian film partner and started to work on a screenplay for a feature film. It was the early nineties and “guerilla” independent filmmaking was all the rage. After film school we went to Seattle to complete our feature film, Toast with the Gods. Grunge was breaking out at that time and we were inspired by the collective soul of artists who called this great city home. We raised whatever small amounts of money we could get from family and friends and set out to film our modern-day adaptation of Homer’s classic, The Odyssey. The film would go on to win several awards at international film festivals.
The film taught me how to manage a complicated production (on a tight budget), and then sell the end product to an audience of buyers. In 2001, right after 9/11, the economy had collapsed, so I decided to put the skills I learned on the film into the family business. I moved to China to source new vendors and products, and it was there that I was able to revolutionise the way we went market. I taught my overseas partners how to produce a “pick and pack” item that would enable us to fulfil customer orders with speed and reduce our overheads, creating a “drop ship” model that was needed for the emerging e-commerce market.
My career in lighting skyrocketed when I was recruited by Ralph Lauren to direct his lighting department into an international sensation. It was there that I learned the power of building an iconic brand. Since then, I have been lucky enough to work among some of the most internationally recognized fashion brands. Each had their own unique brand story and I was able to tap into that to create lighting that spoke to their customer base.
Brand building for the home was a next natural evolution for these brands, because it allowed customers to wear the clothes at work or in their social life, and then be at home living with the lights and furniture. I became a talent scout of sorts, looking for the next big designer partnerships, and this is when I first learned of Tala. The brand came across my radar with the release of the Voronoi bulb. It was groundbreaking in its design authenticity and originality, while it also had a unique brand position that appealed to me, with the concept of ‘Conservation Through Beauty’. I remember thinking that these chaps are onto something!
What drew you to become CEO at Tala?
London and I go way back. In high school, I was accepted by Cambridge University to attend a creative writing summer program. It was the 1980s and I was full-blown punk rocker. I was in the city that started a musical revolution, and it was a dream come true. I spent the majority of that summer on Carnaby Street living out my punk fantasies. London blew my mind and I swore that one day I’d be back!
So, when the Tala team approached me to help take them to the next level, there was instant chemistry. What sealed it for me was their vision to expand Tala’s design envelope across multiple categories and create a world class lighting brand. We also share the same celebration for originality, passion and a mantra that “the best idea wins”, and the Tala team are avid about meaningful change both environmentally and socially. They are visionaries, creatives, and fighters destined to disrupt an industry with their fervor to succeed. I feel like I have found a home where I can bring my vast experience to fruition.
How have you handled the COVID-19 pandemic?
I joined the business in late February 2020, just as our overseas suppliers were locked down by the virus. We knew it was a matter of time before Covid would impact economies worldwide, so we decided to deal with the threat head-on and implemented immediate changes to the business – from accelerating our digital initiatives to completely transforming our packaging and shipping, and onboarding with some of the best e-tailers out there.
We were also very concerned about our team and worked closely to secure all government funding aimed at preserving jobs. If anything, the pandemic taught us how to become a more disciplined and passionate company, and we are fully focused on exploring lighting technology designed to promote health and human wellbeing. The team here is a resilient squad and I am proud of their dedication and spirit.
Where do you see the big opportunities in lighting?
Lighting is an interesting beast as it is not only a necessity, but when done correctly also becomes what I like to call, “the jewellery for the home,” as it is both decorative and functional. The opportunity from a commercial standpoint is the number of places that lighting is used. A simple exercise is to count all the lights in your own house: indoor, outdoor, every room, hallway, common space, walls, ceilings – you name it! Now multiply that by all residential, commercial and hospitality opportunities and it ends up being a very large basket.
The sheer market size creates a great demand for both talented lighting designers and electrical engineers. In addition, the industry is in desperate need for new ambassadors and sales people with a passion for interiors, so lighting is a great opportunity for bespoke makers, marketing mavens and architects. The industry also relies on cutting edge technology and as that accelerates, so does the marketplace.
How are your finding living and working in east London, and what do you think of the culture over here?
East London to me feels like the NYC’s East Village did in the late nineties/early 2000’s: plenty of creative expression, ambition and spirit. It feels like home in so many ways. I think it is a perfect backdrop to Tala’s story – full of energy and determination!
What do you get up to outside of work? What are your other passions?
I am writer at heart and have completed several screenplays, books of poetry and my first novel, Thank God for the Sinners. Writing for me is not only a passion but a necessity. Something that is good for my soul. I love the isolation, the solace of no interruption. Just me, my thoughts, some loud background music and perhaps a cold beer. That is my magic time.
I am also a self-proclaimed ‘music provocateur’, a true punk at heart. I love live music, grunge and garage rock. Even at my advanced age, I am still a force to reckon with in a mosh pit. Well maybe not so much…
Thanks to Eric for talking to us. No doubt we’ll be seeing and hearing a great deal from him in future.