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PIVIUM’s John Campanella: AV Living Legends #49

Published: May 6, 2024
Photo courtesy: John Campanella

PIVIUM’s John Campanella, CTS-D, MTA, DMC-E, CLCS, is the ideal choice to join Commercial Integrator’s #AVLivingLegends series. As our 49th inductee into this distinguished group, the vice president of engineering at PIVIUM joins fellow industry members whose careers truly distinguish them.

Campanella has played a crucial role in shaping the future of project design and development, as well as leading the integration team to new heights.

In this interview with Commercial Integrator, Campanella reflects on his remarkable journey. Indeed, he has traveled from being a musician to being one of the most respected AV professionals in the industry. During the conversation, Campanella even recounts his unforgettable experience working with the legendary Robin Williams! There’s no doubt: Campanella deserves the title of AV Living Legend.

And if you’d like to read even more coverage relating to our #AVLivingLegends, including PIVIUM’s John Campanella, check out our hub page. It includes direct links to every living legend!

Commercial Integrator: What motivated you to join the commercial AV industry?

John Campanella: As a dedicated musician in the 1970s and early 1980s, the pursuit of creating high-quality performance audio was a significant driving force in my life. My friends often described me as an undercover geek because I didn’t really match that look, but it’s a label I embraced wholeheartedly. In retrospect, it seems like a natural path for many of us during that era, despite the limitations of the available technology. We had an innate sense that greater discoveries were on the horizon, waiting to be unveiled.

Although the technology of that time pales in comparison to the advancements we enjoy today, we still embarked on projects that were considered sophisticated for the period. The challenges we faced and the innovative solutions we devised made the experience both fun and rewarding, a sentiment that continues to resonate with me to this day.

Commercial Integrator: What has kept you motivated and engaged in the decades that followed?

John Campanella: As an individual who embraces unconventional thinking, I have always been driven by the belief that there are endless opportunities to improve and expand upon existing technology. This mindset has fueled my passion for continuous learning and innovation, pushing me to explore the boundaries of what is possible within our industry.

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of consulting with manufacturers on the development of new products. My most memorable experience was the times that I spent collaborating with George Feldstein, the esteemed founder of Crestron Electronics. During our numerous discussions, we delved into the intricacies of the industry’s needs and the potential solutions that could be developed to address them. It was an honor to be asked for my opinion on the products they were creating, and I vividly recall examining blueprints of these innovations in their early stages.

To this day, I continue to be sought after by various manufacturers to provide insights and feedback on their products as they progress through the development process. This ongoing involvement allows me to stay at the forefront of industry advancements and contribute to the shaping of future technologies.

Commercial Integrator: Reflect on your role as both a mentee early in your career and as a mentor later in your career. Who helped shape the trajectory of your professional life? How have you tried to help shape others’ careers?

John Campanella: Throughout my 43-year career, I have been fortunate to have two exceptional mentors who have greatly influenced my professional journey. My father has been a constant source of inspiration, instilling in me a strong work ethic that has been the foundation of my success. However, when it comes to my drive and passion for the audiovisual industry, I must attribute much of my early career growth to my former partner at SMW, the late Fred Shen, whom I met back in 1986.

Fred’s guidance was instrumental in shaping my business acumen and fostering a mindset of continual self-improvement. His mentorship inspired me to strive for excellence in all aspects of my work, ultimately leading me to establish my own company in 1996.

As I progressed in my career, I made a concerted effort to pay forward the knowledge and experience I had gained by dedicating myself to educating others in the industry. In the early 1990s, I became a Senior Faculty member of ICIA (AVIXA), where I played a pivotal role in driving the industry’s education initiatives. As part of the team responsible for developing the CTS and CTS-D courses, I contributed to the creation of industry-standard certifications that have since become benchmarks for professionals in the field.

Currently, my focus lies in training colleagues to become better engineers, programmers, and technicians. I firmly believe in leading by example and am not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get hands-on with the work. Whether it’s climbing a ladder, donning a toolbelt or meticulously wiring up a system, I take pride in demonstrating the proper techniques for installation and configuration. By sharing my knowledge and experience through practical, on-the-job training, I aim to empower my colleagues with the skills and confidence they need to excel in their roles and contribute to the advancement of our industry.

Commercial Integrator: What’s the most memorable story/anecdote of your career in commercial AV?

John Campanella: Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of working with numerous high-profile clients, both for commercial and residential projects, but one of the most memorable experiences was collaborating with the late Robin Williams on three of his residences. It was during our first encounter at his San Francisco home in 1998 that I earned the nickname “The Mercenary” from the beloved actor himself. At the time, I sported a ponytail and was dressed entirely in black while working on his audiovisual system. Robin approached me and asked, “Are you my Mercenary programmer?” Although initially taken aback, I quickly realized the honor of receiving a nickname from such a renowned and respected figure.

Over the years, I continued to work with Robin on two additional residences. During one particularly memorable meeting, I found myself in the presence of the architect, the general contractor, Robin and his then-wife Marcia. The discussion revolved around the interior design choices for their new home in Napa. Robin, who appeared somewhat flustered and was pacing, turned to me and inquired, “John, will my audio for my games be (use your imagination here) awesome?” I assured him that we had specified the best equipment available, to which he responded with a resounding “Great!” before promptly exiting the meeting.

My final project with Robin was at his last home prior to his passing. As I sat at his kitchen counter, finalizing the code for his audiovisual system, he entered the room and playfully smacked the back of my head, greeting me with “Hello, baldy.” It had been well over a decade since our first encounter, when I had sported a ponytail. Now, I had a clean-shaven head.

Robin’s passing deeply affected me, and I penned a heartfelt dedication to him, as he had become one of my most cherished clients. To this day, some of my close friends still affectionately refer to me as “The Mercenary,” a testament to the lasting impact of my professional relationship with Robin Williams. Working with Robin was an extraordinary experience that showcased not only his comedic genius but also his genuine interest in the technology that enhanced his personal life. His unique blend of humor, curiosity and kindness made every interaction memorable and left an indelible mark on my career.

The nickname “The Mercenary” serves as a constant reminder of the special bond I shared with one of the most talented and beloved entertainers of our time.

Commercial Integrator: What has been your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

John Campanella: One of the most significant achievements in my career, which I hold in high regard, is being honored with the 2006 InfoComm Educator of the Year Award. This recognition serves as a testament to my unwavering dedication and tireless efforts in creating courses and certifications for well over a decade. The award represents the culmination of my passion for teaching and my commitment to sharing knowledge with others in the audiovisual industry.

Many of my colleagues are well aware of my deep-rooted love for teaching and my genuine desire to help others grow and succeed in their professional endeavors. Being recognized by my peers and the industry as a whole for my contributions to education is an incredibly humbling experience. It reinforces my belief in the power of knowledge-sharing and the impact it can have on individuals and the industry at large.

Commercial Integrator: What has been your biggest professional regret to date?

John Campanella: One of the most significant regrets in my professional journey, which may come as a surprise to many of my colleagues, is the decision to close my company, MDCI. While the reasons behind this choice were deeply personal rather than professional, I often find myself reflecting on the potential that MDCI had and the impact it could have made in the industry had I been able to continue its operations.

At the time of its closure, MDCI had established a strong presence in the audiovisual industry, with six offices strategically located across the United States. The company had built a reputation for delivering high-quality solutions and had fostered a team of talented professionals who were dedicated to pushing the boundaries of innovation in the field.

In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder about the path MDCI could have taken and the achievements we could have realized had I been able to navigate those personal challenges differently. The company had a solid foundation, a talented team, and a vision for the future that was poised for success.

Commercial Integrator: What’s the best advice or pearl of wisdom you either received during your career or came to realize on your own?

John Campanella: In today’s rapidly evolving professional landscape, the importance of continuous education and self-improvement cannot be overstated. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received early in my career was to embrace a mindset of lifelong learning and to actively seek out opportunities to expand my knowledge and skill set. This guidance has been instrumental in shaping my approach to personal and professional development, and I firmly believe that it is a key factor in achieving success and making a meaningful impact in one’s chosen field.

To truly excel in your career, it is essential to cultivate an open and curious mindset, eager to absorb information from a wide range of sources. Take advantage of the educational opportunities provided by manufacturers, industry organizations, and professional associations. Attend workshops, webinars, conferences, and training sessions to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, technologies, and best practices in your field. Engage with experts, mentors, and peers who can offer valuable insights and share their experiences, helping you to broaden your perspective and learn from their successes and challenges.

However, acquiring knowledge is only the first step; it is equally important to apply that knowledge in practical, innovative ways. Push yourself to experiment with new ideas, techniques, and approaches, rather than settling for the status quo. Embrace the opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and take calculated risks, as this is often where the greatest growth and breakthroughs occur. By consistently striving to achieve new heights and redefining what is possible, you position yourself as a leader and innovator in your industry.


Would you also like to nominate a peer or colleague — or perhaps yourself!  in this #AVLivingLegends series just like PIVIUM’s John Campanella was? If so, just email Dan Ferrisi, group editor, commercial and security, Emerald, at dan.ferrisi@emeraldx.com.

Posted in: Insights

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