The bright new future of Dyson

Jake Dyson, eldest son of British inventor and entrepreneur Sir James, talks about his LED lighting fixtures that can last 40 years, and what his plans are for the multibillion pound family firm

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 10:17pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2016, 8:34am


Jake Dyson, oldest son of renowned British inventor and entrepreneur Sir James Dyson, has been on a mission to change the disposable nature of lighting fixtures since commercially launching a desk lamp with a lifespan of 37 years in 2012.

“I see the lighting market as fairly stagnant. It hasn’t really moved forward over the last 30 years, probably longer,” Dyson told the South China Morning Post. “We are now able to do things that no other lighting manufacturer can do.”

That mission gained strong momentum last year when the company his father founded purchased his lighting fixtures business, Jake Dyson Light, which set him up as the successor to lead a fast-growing hi-tech enterprise.

“There are some comparisons to the way I’ve been working to the way Dyson works, which is to really analyse what is there before, think differently and then implement technology,” he said.

While compact fluorescent light bulbs still make up a significant proportion of commercial lighting, these products are widely known for a range of problems, including reduced light output over time, wasted light in all directions and costly replacement.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs can also contain hazardous material, particulary highly toxic mercury. As a result, many businesses and households now opt for light-emitting diode (LED) lighting fixtures.

LED lights, however, have their own issues. Without sufficient cooling, their effectiveness quickly diminishes as heat damages their phosphorous coating and degrades brightness and colour, according to Dyson.

“I wanted to make lights that last a lifetime, so my focus has been on the cooling system,” he said.

“By cooling LEDs, you also save electricity. Out of 100 watts, you save 8 watts of electricity and maintain the consistency of brightness.”

He found that heat pipe technology, which is a system commonly used in satellites and as a cooling solution for microprocessors inside computers, can be adapted to LED lighting fixtures.

Working with Japan-based Furukawa Electric Company, Dyson said he “took a principle that exists” and faced the challenges in manufacturing the electronics. “We had ideas that pushed Furukawa and we achieved it,” he said.

They may be high end, but actually if you do the math in terms of the amount of light you need and to achieve the lighting scheme delivered, they come up quite cheap
Jake Dyson, talking about his Csys desk light, wich costs HK$5,600

His product line includes the Csys LED desk light, floor light and clamp light, each of which can stay bright for a calculated lifetime of 144,000 hours – or 37 years – as heat pipe technology directs heat away from the LEDs.

The Cu-Beam suspended lights, which were introduced last year, can stay bright for an estimated 180,000 hours, or about 40 years, before there is any discernible diminishing of colour or brightness.

“While other people are still making lights where the light is shining straight into our eyes, which is extremely uncomfortable, we’re making lights where you can’t see the light source at all,” Dyson said.

“I’m thinking about different ways of illuminating spaces that are more exciting and certainly more healthy for people working in those spaces.”

The 44-year-old Dyson studied industrial design at Central St Martins in London and graduated in 1994. He then worked for five years under the new product innovation group at Dyson. He left in 2004 to set up his own company in central London, where he focused on advanced LED lighting fixtures.

In 2013, he joined the Dyson board and two years later he was back at his father’s company, where he has an intimate understanding of the family business.

“I saw the first model or experiment in our house at the age of five,” he said. “My father worked relentlessly for 10 years with no money to produce his first vacuum cleaner.”

Dyson said he used to spend his school holidays in the coach house, a small outbuilding where carriages and other vehicles were originally kept at the family home, helping his father work on one prototype after another of the bagless dual cyclone vacuum cleaner.

His father invented that product in 1978, and built a total of 5,127 prototypes between 1979 and 1984 before coming up with a working model.

I’ve seen the company grow from three people to 7,000 people [worldwide] in the course of 20 years. It has just been a wonderful success at fostering creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit
Jake Dyson

It took another 10 years until his father’s bagless vacuum cleaner was commercially launched under the Dyson brand in 1993.

Less than two years since it was released, the Dyson product beat sales of more established brands like Hoover, Electrolux and Miele to become the top-selling vacuum cleaner in Britain.

“I’ve seen the company grow from three people to 7,000 people [worldwide] in the course of 20 years,” Dyson said.

“It has just been a wonderful success at fostering creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit. With product development and engineering at the forefront, it has expanded cyclonic technology into other areas.”

The Dyson enterprise has since spread its wings to develop and sell cordless and hand-held vacuum cleaners, bladeless fans, heaters, humidifiers, purifiers, hand dryers, hair dryers and now, lighting products.

Last year, the company posted a 26 per cent year-on-year revenue increase to £1.7 billion (HK$16.17 billion). The elder Dyson’s net worth was estimated at £5 billion.

Dyson headquarters is located in Malmesbury, a town in the county of Wiltshire, England, about 160 kilometres west of London.

In September, the company opened a hi-tech £250 million research and development centre at its site, where an initial staff of about 3,000 are to develop new products and create advances in areas such as robotics.

The firm has also committed to invest £1.5 billion to develop new technologies, including cutting-edge battery technology, that will enable it to launch 100 new products around the world in the next four years.

Sir James reiterated in September that he had no plans to take the company public since his eldest son will eventually take over the business, according to a report by The Telegraph.

“I am very lucky as I have a son who established his own business… who has experience and wanted to come into Dyson so I have got someone to take over,” the elder Dyson said.

The younger Dyson said: “We have access to more support, as well as more deep science and technology, within Dyson to really do some disruptive innovation in lighting.”

“I want to completely change the way we light spaces,” he added.

According to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the global LED lighting market is estimated to grow to US$90 billion by 2019, up from about US$32 billion in 2014.

Dyson said the company is currently well-positioned to disrupt the market with its advanced lighting technology.

The efficiency and longevity of its lighting products, however, come with top-of-the-line prices.

The Csys desk light, for example, costs HK$5,600, while its standing floor lamp version has a price tag of HK$7,200.

Lee Wai-kwong, the chief executive at Hong Kong-listed ASM Pacific Technology, said long-lasting LED lighting fixtures might not be that practical for regular office or residential use.

“People don’t need lighting fixtures that last 40 years. Consumers like to change,” said Lee, who heads the world’s biggest supplier of LED packaging equipment. “Nowadays, light fixtures that last for a few months or several years are good enough.”

Lee, however, stressed that the cost of installing long-lasting LED light fixtures would be more welcome in large infrastructure deployments, such as on public streets and roads, stadiums, cinemas, warehouses and factories, where the cost of services to maintain and regularly replace lights are expensive.

Dyson sees the situation differently, noting his LED lights are more economical for the consumer.

“They may be high end, but actually if you do the math in terms of the amount of light you need and to achieve the lighting scheme delivered, they come up quite cheap,” he said.