In the 26th episode of the DesignRush Podcast, our senior editor Vianca Meyer talked to Jonathan Levine, a serial entrepreneur and the founder of the audio company Master & Dynamic.
By listening to the full episode, you will learn:
- What’s the single most universal trait that will make you special and boost your career
- Why a flat organizational structure promotes trust and loyalty, and could just be the future we need
- Is the leading-by-example method the best way to scale your business
Let's go through some of the most interesting insights from today's episode.
Jonathan was first drawn to headphones after building a recording studio in his office to support his shared passions with his sons Robert and Justin. Being a serial consumer products entrepreneur, he envisioned headphones with both premium sound quality and elevated design that his sons could use. While in Washington, DC they came across a pair of WWII aviator headphones in a museum and could not help but notice how elegant and timeless the headphones looked. At that moment, Jonathan decided he wanted to design and build headphones that in 50 years would also stand the test of time.
Vianca: Could you share the distinct features of your product design and the tech advancements that define your brand?
Jonathan: When Master & Dynamic first launched, our focus was on analog products, with a keen emphasis on materials, manufacturing processes and acoustics.
As the market evolved towards Bluetooth and wireless connectivity, we had to adapt swiftly to remain competitive. Despite being a smaller company, we've managed to bridge the technological gap with larger competitors like Apple and Bose.
Our approach is highly collaborative, which allows us to integrate new technologies rapidly. Entrepreneurs often bring us their innovations, and we're quick to embrace and implement them if they fit our vision.
This agility positions us as both a design-focused and a tech company.
Could you share your approach to identifying and fostering talent at Master & Dynamic? What character traits are crucial for individuals to succeed in their careers?
My management style is to lead by example. I set high standards for myself and extend those expectations to my team, but always in a fair manner.
The individuals who thrive at Master & Dynamic are:
- Enjoy the process of creation and adaptation
They understand the importance of multitasking and are enthusiastic about contributing to various aspects of our projects. We have a remarkable global team with minimal turnover, a testament to our work culture.
My primary role is to ensure that we continually engage in projects that inspire our team and make them proud. I believe that pride in one’s work and the products we create is fundamental to our success.
Are there specific characteristics you prioritize when selecting members for your team?
Curiosity stands out as a key trait.
It's hard to define, but you recognize it when you see it. I value team members who are self-motivated to pursue their ideas but are also open to embracing others' concepts.
My experience working in restaurants during college significantly shaped my perspective on this. I find that those who have worked in the restaurant industry have a unique set of skills that are transferable and valuable in many professions.
They learn about product quality, multitasking and customer interaction, all crucial skills in any field.
Hence, when I come across candidates with a restaurant background, they always catch my attention and generally get an interview.
Once you've identified potential talent, how do you nurture their development to align with your business goals?
We maintain a very flat organizational structure where everyone's voice is valued equally, and there's minimal hierarchy. This approach helps keep our team members motivated and engaged, allowing them to grow and meet their ambitions.
I'm deeply involved with my product and design teams, often engaging in multiple calls daily to work on projects alongside them.
My role involves more than just leading — it's about being in the thick of things with my team.
This approach fosters a collaborative environment where each member can contribute to their fullest potential. Our management style is tailored to what employees want and are accustomed to, and many of my team members are adept managers themselves.
They are responsible for managing their teams effectively, ensuring that everyone's growth is in sync with our company's vision and objectives.
What strategies have you found effective for encouraging continuous learning and adaptation among your employees?
The key to fostering continuous learning and adaptation in the team is rooted in nurturing their innate curiosity.
My approach is to create an environment where employees feel safe and comfortable to explore and share their curiosities. The belief that there are no bad ideas is fundamental to our work culture.
I often initiate conversations with the team by presenting new ideas or asking if they are familiar with certain topics. This leads to productive meetings where we explore various avenues, sometimes even leading us down paths we hadn't previously considered.
This method of bouncing between focused work and free ideation is crucial in any role or profession.
It’s about striking a balance between maintaining focus when necessary and allowing the freedom to think and ideate spontaneously. This approach keeps the team engaged, open to new ideas and continually learning, which is vital for keeping up with the fast-paced tech changes.
How do you approach fostering leadership development within your team, and what qualities do you look for in potential leaders?
Fostering leadership is a nuanced process.
First, it's important to identify who has the capacity and desire for management and leadership, acknowledging that not everyone aspires to this role and that's perfectly okay.
When someone demonstrates leadership potential, I encourage and support their growth.
The key is to enable them to leverage their capabilities effectively, essentially multiplying their impact by delegating and trusting others. This is how individual growth translates into organizational growth.
An essential part of developing leadership is understanding that mistakes are inevitable.
I've made mistakes throughout my career and try to minimize their impact now. But the team must know that making mistakes is part of the learning and growth process. We don't punish mistakes — we encourage risk-taking and problem-solving.
I always emphasize to new team members that they will never be in trouble for asking for help. The real issue arises when someone encounters a problem and doesn't seek assistance.
This approach fosters a culture of collaboration and mutual support, where everyone is working together to solve problems, rather than being siloed experts.
What do you consider the top three characteristics of a great leader?
Reflecting on leadership qualities, three key characteristics come to mind:
- Presence — A leader needs to be present, not necessarily always physically, but certainly accessible. Presence ensures a leader is in tune with their team's needs
- Leading by example — A leader must demonstrate commitment, showing that they are in the trenches alongside their team when needed. Continual check-ins can have a significant impact on team cohesion
- Providing vision — A leader needs to offer a clear and compelling vision. Team members need to believe in and be excited about the company's direction – where it's heading in one, three or five years. This vision helps keep them motivated
I resonate with a phrase I once heard, describing a successful entrepreneur as part visionary, part cheerleader, and part son of a b****. The last part implies that a leader must be ready to address challenges decisively and effectively.