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Sat 12 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Sound judgement

The Soundcraft Studer camp has been humming of late. Operational changes, new product releases and an increased focus on the MENA market has kept the company on its collective toes. Patrick Elligett recently caught up with Soundcraft Studer CEO and president Andy Trott and VP of marketing Keith Watson.

Sound judgement
Sound judgement
Andy Trott.
Sound judgement
Keith Watson.

The Soundcraft Studer camp has been humming of late. Operational changes, new product releases and an increased focus on the MENA market has kept the company on its collective toes. Patrick Elligett recently caught up with Soundcraft Studer CEO and president Andy Trott and VP of marketing Keith Watson.The merger of Soundcraft and Studer’s operations has been relatively seamless by all accounts. What factors do you put this down to?

Andy Trott:I joined Harman International in 2003 and a year later I was made responsible for the Studer brand as well as Soundcraft. I developed a strategy with (company parent) Harman Corporate whereby over a period of time we could bring the two groups together as one company, combining the various production, R&D, and management roles.

The first thing I did when I came on board was appoint a management team, which basically brought the two groups together. We have reached the point now where we have one VP of marketing, one VP of R&D and one VP of manufacturing.

You recently announced that manufacturing, currently based in Switzerland, will relocate to the UK, while R&D activities will remain. Will jobs be lost in the production department?

AT:The first thing we’ve done is to offer all manufacturing staff in Switzerland positions in England.

We want to retain the key expertise that we have in our production group. We have a number of Swiss staff who have already signed up to come and work in our Potters Bar facility.

You mentioned there would be eighteen jobs created at Potters Bar. How will these positions be filled?

AT:These staff will focus on manufacturing Studer products. We are currently trying to fill those positions from within our Swiss branch.

Where we can’t transfer our Swiss staff, we will recruit externally.

An ‘anonymous’ email recently circulated attacking Harman Pro’s decision to relocate Studer’s operations to the UK. It also questioned Harman’s management of the Studer brand. What is your response to such criticism?

AT:The email in question is not credible for a number of reasons. Firstly, it came from an anonymous source who signed it off as ‘Willy Studer’, who was the founder of Studer and passed away in 1996.We have brought together Soundcraft and Studer as one group. Nobody has the ability to split Soundcraft profitability and Studer profitablility. So it is also factually inaccurate. The whole process is audited under market rules and reported publicly and within Harman. So the statistics are completely transparent.

Blake Augsberger (Harman Pro CEO) is an incredible manager, and under his leadership, operating income from Harman Pro has grown from $59 million in 2006, to 91.5 million in 2008. That is 25% year on year growth.

Does anyone really think he would allow a company to be unprofitable? Keith Watson:This could be the work of a mal-contented ex-employee or even a competitor taking a swing at us, we’re not sure really.

We are refuting the points that it makes, but we are not going to be able to conceptualise much as to who might have sent it, as there is an investigation in place. Anybody who sends out this sort of thing isn’t taking the health and the wealth of the company or the employees to heart, so it is quite a malicious attack on both the employees and the organisation.

How is Harman Pro’s mixer group performing?

AT:Prior to the economic crash in October, it was growing at a staggering rate. Obviously the downturn has had an impact – I’m not pretending it hasn’t – but within Harman we have the capability to respond very rapidly to economic conditions and we have done. This is one of the strengths of Harman management.

We are now rebuilding from where we were back in October, which admittedly did get pretty bad.

KW:The merger of Soundcraft and Studer saw us transform into a digital business, both in ethos and technology.

The merger forced us to change our business model, which has seen us transformed into a very strong organisation.

The respective brands are fairly symbiotic even though each has its own loyalties to different markets. Studer has a greater affiliation with the broadcast and recording markets because of its heritage, while Soundcraft is more aligned with the live mixing business.

There are also Studer products, such as the Vista 5 SR, which is recognised as being one of the top touring consoles. AT:We’ve gained tremendous strength by bringing Soundcraft and Studer together.

Lately, we have been focusing on our core strength, which is new product development. It’s no big secret that we are outsourcing production where we can, because it’s not our core competency, and it never will be.

Introducing new products is what we’re good at and it’s an approach which has enabled us to totally transform our product offering in recent years.

KW:We introduced 17 new products in the last year, which is a record for us. We take that as an indication that we are doing something right. How important is the MENA market to Soundcraft Studer?

AT:The Middle East is a very strong market for us, particularly for our Studer range of products.

We have been increasingly ramping up our focus on the market of late. We haven’t made any official announcements over what we will be doing in the Middle East in the immediate future, but I can tell you, we do have some big plans for our Middle East business.

KW:We better not jump the gun and give anything away just yet, but there may well be a couple of really big announcements in terms of the Middle East coming from us soon.

Radio stars

Dubai-based radio broadcaster Arabian Radio Network (ARN) recently installed the Middle East’s first Studer On-Air 2500 mixer.

“Our RJs [radio jockeys] must multi-task in the studio,” says Mahmoud Al Rasheed, GM of ARN. “They are the presenter, the director and the announcer.

“It’s very important we provide them with equipment that will allow them to focus on their core job of presenting while also enabling them to instinctively use the equipment. The Studer’s one of the best mixers in this respect.”

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