Saturday, February 24, 2024

2023 Thea Awards: Around the World

TEA Service awardee Kevin Murphy of Kraftwerk Living Technologies puts his heart into it, every time

interview by Judith Rubin and Martin Palicki

Kevin Murphy’s distinguished career has kept him on the forefront of themed entertainment technology for decades. A familiar and friendly face at industry events around the world, Kevin has brought his business development skills to a short but powerful list of companies, including his current employer Kraftwerk Living Technologies. Kevin also has been an unabashed booster for the industry, championing organizations like TEA to the far reaches of the globe. He was particularly instrumental in developing TEA’s European presence and has been a steadfast volunteer for TEA practically since its founding. Those are some of the reasons he is receiving the TEA Peter Chernack Award for Distinguished Service and will be honored at the Thea Awards Gala this April at the Disneyland Resort.

You started out working in museums. Why did you move to the vendor side of the business?

I was a bit of a rebel in my time and whilst I had a fascination in mathematics and physics, I was never going to be an academic. At the ripe old age of 17 I found myself in a civil service job developing Nuffield physics and electronics experiments for Her Majesty’s School inspectors, in an old laboratory on the site of a WWII radio station – Ivy Farm.

Kevin peels an orange for a photo used in an exhibition at the London Natural History Museum. All photos courtesy of Kevin Murphy

Within a year I was traveling the U.K. teaching basic electronics in residential courses. After five years I applied for a job at the London Natural History Museum, which led to working with curators, scientists and exhibition designers in helping develop the Museum’s technical systems. To say it was ground-breaking and immense fun is an understatement, but we were leading the industry in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. I still love that place and the people I worked with, and the secrets in the basements!

I was ambitious and my next opportunity came via the late Robert Simpson, one of the founders of Electrosonic, and a great innovative leader in AV for our industry. I had gotten to know him and the company from his sales visits to the Museum. I joined in 1987 as a product manager, which really was a posh term for a salesman in those days. That started a whole new chapter in my life, armed with a company car, briefcase and a few suits.

How did you get involved in themed entertainment?

My new role at Electrosonic took me to museums, retail, science centers, brand and theme parks and I liked it! My first “theme park” project was actually Granada Studios Tour in Manchester, and an experience based around Coronation Street, a popular “soap” TV series. I was also exposed to the Sanrio Puroland project in my first years, and my first trip to Los Angeles was to help with animatronic programming at an offshoot company called Roboshop. I remember that trip so well, and colleagues toured me around L.A. and the sights.

Kevin heads to work during his first week as a product manager for Electrosonic in 1987.

Working at Gardaland in Italy on the pirate-themed I Corsari ride, which opened in 1992, introduced me to Intamin, Technifex, Creative Presentations and more with a team creatively led by Richard Crane and Chris Miles. That project opened up many friendships and exposure to the USA themed entertainment community, including a rather lovely chap named Monty Lunde.

What’s the history of your involvement with TEA?

Monty often talked about forming an association to look after and protect the smaller companies in the industry and I was honored to be asked to be an inaugural member and sit in the first meetings. Later, Peter Ed and others began to build a European arm of TEA and I lent a hand.

In the early ‘90s and 2000s I was also heavily involved with TiLE – Technology in Leisure and Entertainment; I had the pleasure to chair the 2000 Conference in London. Soon after that last conference, I took a more active role on the European TEA Division board. I was on the Board for around nine years and President for seven of those years.

I see myself as a dedicated volunteer, a team player who believed in the organization. I really liked and respected the people in Europe and USA I had to interact with. In line with my working life, what I can do is be a catalyst – contribute, I hope, well- thought-out ideas, admit when I am wrong and make decisions. I have run large teams in my career and been “very senior” but really, I just like being a right hand. However, I do enjoy planning and strategy and we did grow the Division to encompass the Middle East.

The first European SATE, at Disneyland Paris, was an exciting step. I have a soft spot for SATE Europe as the event is a really nice mix of attendees from North America and Europe with a hint of Middle East, usually in a setting that just makes them so much fun.

Tell us a little about the unique art of business development for this industry.

I have been lucky and none more so than in my current position at Kraftwerk Living Technologies (KLT). The team is full of some of the best creative engineers, and I can focus on sales, marketing and business development and I do not need to do technical design – as there are so many better than me that can do it!

In business development, there has to be a structure and a reason why you reach out in certain directions, building a network that can grow work for the future, plus allow changes in strategy.

Having personal experience from senior management to the shop floor, in many industries and in many countries, I can walk into a “cold” meeting and usually find something to interest the skeptical or talk about. Building relationships takes listening and then trying to talk about the right things, doing things right and gaining trust.

What do you love about this industry?

I like working on projects that are around for a good amount of time, and I like to see the projects succeed. I have always tended to work on fixed installations and I am passionate about doing something that millions of people will see and hopefully enjoy – so I suppose I like making an impact and our industry certainly does that. Our industry respects age, too, with big roles for the younger players and even for the old ones like me – I changed my career at 60 and KLT welcomed me in and I found a company that cares as much as I do about doing the “right thing.”

I also like helping operators of any kind and in any place expand their horizons and improve their guest experiences with technology and immersive approaches. Many museums and cultural institutions still do not address entertainment as a competitor for time. However, entertainment is needed to educate, plain and simple.

Overall, I think the themed entertainment sector will continue to flourish and grow. This industry provides unending opportunities for innovation and discovery, and to help clients address what their visitors really want.

You’ve seen a lot of the world. How has that informed your perspective on life?

Travel has taught me so much but above all, respect for the different people and cultures you meet and the need to listen and learn and to stop always putting my view forward – which I am at times guilty of when I get excited. Vancouver Island, Japan, Los Angeles and Austria are among my favorite places to visit. I will jump on a plane with little excuse for any of those places.

Kevin and wife Maggie in San Francisco, California.

In terms of business travel, networking and learning from others are priceless and essential and keep you from becoming isolated or narrow in outlook. A word of advice to my colleagues – when traveling to a trade show, always check to see if there is a TEA-organized gathering there. These are some of the finest networking and professional development events.

What advice can you give others looking to get more involved in supporting TEA?

Meeting and working with other TEA members grows knowledge and experience, raises new opportunities, and also helps understand your clients and competition. You get back what you put in.

Being a Board director is fine, but everyone can support our association by volunteering from just helping out at events to helping with recruitment and membership. There are any number of small jobs that need doing to help the organization grow and succeed, and this is where any member young or old should start. TEA is doing a great job bringing together cultural and entertainment along with brand and retail. One of the most rewarding features of the TEA is the openness and friendliness of its events.

TEA has to be a global association to grow and survive, and it will, by paying attention and adapting. Members and leaders must realize and understand the whole market and not just the part they are exposed to. Understand that there is a difference – and listen.

What’s a little-known fact about Kevin Murphy?

The “Murphy Bus” – Maastricht in the mid ‘90s and the TiLE conference and what happened after midnight following a wonderful conference dinner in a Chateau. I may have been a little more up for partying in my younger days and for those that experienced it, that bus and its trips were probably fairly memorable. Luckily, there were no mobile phones and cameras in those days, so the legend just lives on.

Your dream vacation or cruise?

The rainforest and the sea – doing it this year with a trip to the Amazon and the Galapagos. I adore nature and everything it offers and never happier than when surrounded by plants and animals with my really lovely wife Maggie. • • •

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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