Interview: B&W Acquired by Owner of San Francisco 49ers, a Super-Geeky Audiophile

Silicon Valley start-up Eva Automation, co-founded by 49ers president Gideon Yu, acquires leading audio firm Bowers & Wilkins. Leadership packed with Harvard MBAs, venture capitalists, digital gurus and audiophiles.


The vaunted audio brand Bowers & Wilkins has been acquired by Silicon Valley start-up Eva Automation, whose CEO Gideon Yu is president of the San Francisco 49ers and an unapologetic “geek that really loves audio/video, technology and sports,” he tells CE Pro.

Yu is a Stanford-educated engineer with a Harvard MBA and a rich career in venture capital. He served as CFO for both Facebook and YouTube. His co-founders and colleagues are equally accomplished, with strong academic credentials and successful careers in consumer electronics, digital media, user experience (UX) and venture capital. Eva’s investors and advisors represent the who’s who of technology, finance and UX, from the likes of Yahoo!, Alibaba, YouTube, National Semiconductor, Facebook and Sequoia Capital.

But Yu doesn’t want us to care about all of that. He wants integrators to know that the acquisition of B&W, including sub-brands Classe and Rotel, was born of a “sincere enthusiasm” for high-quality audio and a long-term adoration for B&W in particular.

To be sure, Yu and his start-up Eva have broad-market aspirations but he promises, “You won’t see any changes whatsoever in audio quality. All the audiophiles out there have nothing to worry about.”

Who is Eva Automation?

Eva is a two-year-old firm operating in stealth mode to create the ideal multiroom audio and video system . Yu has been seeking such a thing for decades – something that combines high-end A/V with a “really fantastic user experience.”

“You won’t see any changes whatsoever in audio quality. We plan to invest in quality. Otherwise, why would we acquire B&W?

— Gideon Yu, CEO Eva Automation, executive chairman Bowers & Wilkins 

Despite improvements in both areas over the years, “What I want for my own living room has not been created,” he says. “There’s components, like some good interfaces and really good high-end audio/video. If I could buy it, I would, but it hasn’t been created.”

Yu says Eva has already developed the core of a multiroom A/V system, developed with the expertise of digital gurus and UX experts from the ranks of Apple, Facebook, YouTube and others. But the solution, aimed at discriminating users, was incomplete without the power of a beloved brand and the craftsmanship of true A/V artisans.

“We went out to talk to a lot of the brands you [CE Pro] cover,” Yu says. “We asked: Is there a way to take our technology, our user experience, our expertise in apps – things we’re good at – and help you guys or partner with you guys?”

When Yu met B&W owner Joe Atkins and the team, “It was a whirlwind romance,” Yu confesses. “I’ve been a fan for decades and a customer recently. Their views of where they want to go in the future is just amazing.”

Like virtually every big brand in high-performance audio, B&W has contemplated its role in the multiroom-audio business, especially in the broader market served by … broader-market consumer brands.

“They [B&W] were saying there’s a lot of good technology out there, but still not the quality that B&W will put its name on,” Yu explains. “When we talked to Joe about their product roadmap, their passions, their dreams, it made a lot of sense for them to partner with us.”

Next: B&W Acquisition Statements, Announcements

He adds, like a giddy school girl going on a first date with the quarterback, “The opportunity for us to partner with a brand like that is just a dream come true. … From the minute I thought there was a possibility, I was bouncing off the walls.”

As such, don’t expect to see Eva dismantling the fundamentals that made B&W great. There won’t be any “real changes” at B&W in the near term, Yu says, and definitely, “You won’t see any changes whatsoever in audio quality. We plan to invest in quality. Otherwise, why would we acquire B&W? … All we want to do is find a way to deliver the next level of user experience that meets the quality expectations of the B&W customer.”

Also, don't expect to see much from the “Eva Automation” brand itself. The business now is all B&W and the company's new products, expected to ship in Q4 of this year, will be worthy of the brand, Yu says.

He emphasizes the acquisition is part of a “growth story,” not a cost-cutting scheme nor an evil takeover plot.

A big part of that “story” is the specialty A/V channel, which Yu and team “absolutely appreciate.”

B&W is a perennial favorite among home-technology integrators. In the 2015 brand preference survey of the CE Pro 100 highest-revenue integrators, B&W ranked #2 in the in-wall speaker category, with 29% of the CE Pro 100 saying they specified the brand (compared to 52% for Sonance). B&W was  #1 in the floorstanding-speaker category, with 30% of Top 100 integrators specifying the brand for their installations. In the 2016 brand-preference survey (to be posted soon), B&W slipped slightly, losing ground to Klipsch in both categories.

While Yu is not at home cheering on the 49ers, you can be sure, “This channel will see me a lot.”

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Statement from Joe Atkins, B&W Chairman

Over the last few years the global environment in which we operate has become very complex while the audio space we occupy is increasingly impacted by transforming technologies and retail consolidation.

As a result we have for some time now been looking at a host of possible strategies to best position the Bowers & Wilkins Group to take full advantage of the tremendous opportunities these changes present.

In that regard I am very pleased to announce this morning that we have been acquired by Silicon Valley based EVA Automation Inc a two year old Company founded and led by Gideon Yu. Gideon has been instrumental in building world class technology Companies including Facebook, YouTube and Square.

EVA brings with it a signifi cant amount of business and technological expertise and considerable fi nancial resources, all of which are necessary to take Bowers & Wilkins to the next level.

I am confident that this is the right transition for Bowers and our global family and therefore have retained a signifi cant equity interest in the combined business.

I will continue to direct the day to day business as our Chief Executive Officer reporting to Gideon who will be our Chairman and I will join the EVA Automation Inc board of directors. I fully expect that the integration of the EVA team in to our operations will be seamless.

Exciting times but I’m sure lots of questions so please reach out to Evert, Hans , Geoff or myself for more detail.

Best Regards, Joe Atkins, Chairman

Statement from Eva Automation

EVA Automation joins forces with Bowers & Wilkins
A letter from our founder

Friends of EVA,

I am beyond thrilled to announce that we have acquired Bowers & Wilkins—in my opinion, the absolute quality and design leader in high-end audio equipment. I’ve personally been a huge fan and loyal customer of Bowers & Wilkins for decades and truly admire and respect their Chairman, Joe Atkins. What he and his team have created over the past 30 years is simply inspiring.

Since I founded EVA Automation two years ago, we have been working hard to create fantastic home A/V user experiences. When it was time to seek out partners for our journey ahead, Bowers & Wilkins was unquestionably our #1 choice, and after I met Joe and his team, it was immediately clear that we share the same long term product vision and sincere passion for home entertainment.

Return to Main Story: Interview with new B&W Owner Gideon Yu

To my new friends at Bowers & Wilkins: I can’t wait to meet all of you! Your brand and heritage are second to none, and we at EVA are excited to operate as one combined company under the Bowers & Wilkins name. Joe Atkins has graciously agreed to remain the CEO of our combined company, while I will be our Executive Chairman. There are very few leaders in home A/V as experienced, respected and successful as Joe, and I look forward to partnering with and learning from him…and all of you.

One of the most important parts of our acquisition is that Joe is maintaining a significant equity stake in our combined company and will be joining our board of directors, further aligning all of our interests.

We will have much, much more to announce when the time is right about our vision and our products. In the meantime, we will continue to work hard on developing a truly special, highly integrated, and easy to use home A/V experience that I know you’ll love.

Until then,

Gideon Yu
Executive Chairman
Bowers & Wilkins

Press Release

Bowers & Wilkins Acquired by Silicon Valley based EVA Automation

Bowers & Wilkins, the British audio brand founded in Sussex, England, in 1966, has been acquired by Silicon Valley based EVA Automation Inc, a technology company founded by Gideon Yu.

Bowers & Wilkins is the market leading maker of high-end audio equipment. It has forged its position through a relentless commitment to high quality innovative research, development and build. EVA Automation will integrate fully with Bowers &Wilkins’ unmatched acoustic engineering prowess by offering innovative A/V technologies and product vision that will enable Bowers & Wilkins to grow faster and further.

Joe Atkins, incumbent owner of Bowers & Wilkins, will remain as CEO and will work closely with EVA and Yu to continue to develop Bowers & Wilkins’ position as a world class highly integrated AV company. Gideon Yu is well known for helping to build world-class companies including Facebook, YouTube and Square and will act as Executive Chairman for Bowers & Wilkins

Gideon Yu commented, “Bowers & Wilkins brings an incredible brand, experienced and well-respected team and commitment to making high-end audio equipment of unmatched quality.  We at EVA share their same product vision and passion for home entertainment and look forward to creating fantastic home A/V experiences together as one combined company.“

Joe Atkins commented, “This is an exciting time for Bowers & Wilkins – a brand of true heritage and quality. In Gideon Yu and EVA Automation we have a true innovator in the technology sector.”

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson