Sonos Co-Founder Speaks on ‘Moral Compass’

John MacFarlane, left, is co-founder of Sonos, which makes wireless sound systems.

Sonos co-founder John MacFarlane doesn’t draw a lot of attention to himself when he speaks in public, but his company’s success does. 

Speaking to about 85 business people Nov. 16 at Impact Hub, McFarlane described how Sonos came to sell millions of wireless sound equipment units around the world in less than 10 years. “If you’re a surfer, you see the wave coming,” he said. “You want to be earlier than later.” 

MacFarlane, 50, stepped down this year as Sonos chief executive officer after citing his wife’s bout with breast cancer and his aging parents. He still remains active with the company, which started in 2002. 

However, MacFarlane admitted Sonos is pulling back a bit in Santa Barbara. The company plans to sublet its 27,743-square-foot space at 419 State St. And likely consolidate its employees on its nearby Chapala Street offices. Sonos also has a smaller office on Mason Street. 

MacFarlane didn’t talk as if he was worried about the situation. “There’s no reason to be on State Street,” he said, which is something many other retailers have found out in the past decade. 

A UC Santa Barbara graduate student, MacFarlane said as chief executive office he was “never really focused on the money, never really focused on the valuation.” He said, “The role of the CEO is to define the culture of the company.” 

Sonos gives its employees $500 to buy a bicycle when they start working there and $5 for days they ride it to work. MacFarlane took no credit for that idea. 

He said CEOs need a “moral compass.” McFarlane said, “I try to have an ethical gravity … It’s important to have an ethical framework.” 

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