i3 - November/December 2018 - 38

Consum

er

Techno

logy

CO-FOUNDERS, THIEL AUDIO

F

or nearly 40 years, a small
company in Lexington,
Kentucky, churned
out speakers designed to give
even the biggest audiophile
goosebumps after hearing
them. Thanks to their highquality speakers, Thiel Audio
- the revolutionary business cofounded by Jim Thiel and Kathy
Gornik - became the yardstick all
other speakers were measured
against. Thiel's success has made
the two founders some of the
most ubiquitous and influential
leaders in the home audio and
consumer technology industries.
Thiel Audio started in
1976, when Jim Thiel started
building custom electronic
components for studio and
stage applications. Born
on September 29, 1947, in
Covington, KY, the young Thiel
always loved music, taking
piano lessons and playing in a
band during high school. Thiel
also displayed a keen interest in
science, especially electronics,
creating sound reproduction
gear and attempting to build
flying machines during his early
school years. After college, he
realized there was still room for
improvement in loudspeakers
and started Thiel Audio despite a
lack of professional experience.
As he developed his business,
Thiel recruited his younger
brother Tom, an expert wood
worker, and a few college friends,
including Kathy Gornik, who went
on to be Thiel Audio's president
and essential business leader.
As the fourth of nine children of

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NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018

about customers. Gornik often told
new employees about the three
tenets of Thiel Audio: "Satisfy the
customer, satisfy the customer and
satisfy the customer."
While Gornik led the
business side, Thiel designed
all his speakers and their parts,
assembling each one in Lexington.
In his designs, Thiel committed
to the concepts of phase- and
time-coherence in his pursuit of
loudspeaker accuracy, leading to
some unique technical features.
Ultimately, he created the
Coherent Source design concept,
which gave his company's
speakers a sonic edge along with
their iconic alpha designations.
Thiel's affordable high-end
speakers became legendary
during his lifetime, winning nearly
every award extant, including six
Audio/Video International Product
of the Year Awards. Meanwhile,
Inc. Magazine named Gornik
the Kentucky/Southern Indiana
Region "Entrepreneur of the Year"
in 1993. In 1994, she helped create
and served as the first chairperson
of the High-Performance Audio
subdivision of CTA, from 1995-97
she served as chairperson of CTA's
Audio Division, in 1998-2006 she
served on CTA's executive board,
in 2003-04 as chair, in 2007 was
chair of its Small Business Council,
and from 2010-12 served on its
Business Industry Leaders.
After a fight with cancer, Jim
Thiel passed away in 2009. The
company was bought by a private
equity firm in 2012 and Gornik
retired. Since then, she has served
on various education boards. 

(1947 - )

(1947 - 2009 )

Between Gornik's marketing philosophy
and Thiel's engineering prowess, Thiel Audio
became a bonafide success.
second-generation Slovenians,
Gornik quickly picked up on the
challenges and strategies behind
running a business while working
at her family's high-end men's
clothing shop. Her strong work
ethic served her well and she
graduated from the University of
Dayton with a B.S. in education
in 1969.
Thiel Audio initially operated
on a shoestring budget, financed
mostly by friends and family and
equipped with an array of used
tools. To save money during
their first trip to CES in Chicago
in 1977, Thiel and Gornik packed
their own food, for example. Over
time, Gornik helped jumpstart
the company, driving around
mid-Atlantic states selling
loudspeakers to independent
audio dealers.

Between Gornik's marketing
philosophy and Thiel's
engineering prowess, Thiel Audio
became a bonafide success.
After several years of trial and
error and a focus on engineering,
in 1980 the company's floorstanding Thiel CS3 brought
the fledgling company high
sales, a genuine place in the
industry and, most importantly,
profitability. On the lead-up to
their success, Gornik turned
down most dealer applications,
waiting to do business with
only the best in the market - a
strategy which allowed the
company to double their annual
revenues each year for five years
running. Under Gornik's fiscal
leadership, Thiel was profitable
each year except 1991.
But above all, Thiel Audio cared

logy

I T I S I N N O VAT I O N



i3 - November/December 2018

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