This holiday season, families around the world will be waking up to a Dyson vacuum cleaner under their tree — and whooping with joy, thanks in part to inventor James Dyson. Credit his cool British accent and minimalist commercials or the fact that a Dyson vacuum is not only powerful but also sleek and stylish, and suddenly an everyday cleaning product is a gift that simply can’t miss. “If you’re using an interesting machine where you can see the dirt and you can see it doing something, I think it’s fun and satisfying,” he says.
The head of Dyson (which also produces Airblade hand dryers and bladeless fans) is based in England, but he swings through Chicago often as River North is the site of his U.S. headquarters. Since opening the office a decade ago, the Chicago team has grown from two sales employees to a staff of 500, with at least 200 more to be hired soon. “A lot of the [technical] ideas come from [Chicago], but we do the engineering in England,” says Dyson, who still works closely with staff on all of his projects.
So what inspires these life-simplifying products? Dyson looks at the everyday problems that frustrate people and aims to create a solution. “It gives you an idea of how to solve a problem, then creates a more interesting product.” Most importantly, he never gives up. “Nothing is ever right; you can always do it better. But I love being involved in all the failure and then the overcoming of the failure,” he says.
9 a.m. After a night at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago (11 E. Walton), Dyson clears his mind with a run along Lake Michigan.
The lakefront running path
10 a.m. He refuels with coffee, granola and a croissant at the hotel before heading out for the day.
Breakfast at the Waldorf Astoria
Noon: Dyson is a huge fan of modern and figurative art, so he spends a few hours viewing the works at the Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E. Chicago).
The Bivouac exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art
3 p.m. A game of tennis at East Bank Club (500 N. Kingsbury) is one of Dyson’s sure-fire ways to beat jet lag.
6 p.m. He’s not a fan of sushi, but he frequents Japonais (600 W. Chicago) for it’s healthy offerings of stir-fry and salad.
The interior of Japonais
9 p.m. An inventor’s brain must be in top form, so Dyson hits the pillow early, though social engagements sometimes keep him out until 11.
Story by Madeline Skaggs | Photo of James Dyson by Ramzi Dreessen