AudioTonix : SSL Joins The Group
140 GROUP EXPANSION
AUDIOTONIX | SSL JOINS THE GROUP
News of a new acquisition hit our inboxes just ahead of the Christmas break, which, yes, I know feels like a lifetime ago already, but almost six months on, the story is still more than newsworthy in the sense of what it means for the parent group, the industry as a whole, and what happens next. Having formed the Audiotonix group back in 2014, which at the time marked the coming together of three British mixing consoles brands - DiGiCo, Allen & Heath and Calrec - a fourth brand, SSL, was added to the group just before we reached 2018. “We originally spoke to SSL about two years ago now, but it didn’t go anywhere,” explained James Gordon, CEO of Audiotonix. “The discussion was mainly just to say that we were interested. They came back to us about 12 months ago, and we started to work with them more seriously as there was an opportunity.
“The reason for SSL, I guess, is it’s such a strong brand in the industry and it has been around for a long time. It also fits well with the other three brands that we have. We like brands that have a strong, prestigious name, customers that are loyal to the brand and believe in it, and obviously, the team of people behind it are passionate for the brand they work for. That tends to be - in our industry at least - the right ingredients to have an exciting business that you can move forward and develop.” On the surface, having four mixing consoles all under one roof - so to speak - could be viewed as a competitive crossover. However, on closer inspection, each has its strength in a different marketplace. DiGiCo is most prominent in high-end touring and installations, Allen & Heath operates in the same markets but at the mid range, Calrec is the broadcast arm, and SSL brings the high-end studio sector along with live
sound and broadcast. “The way the group works is each company that joins has got to be able to add value and we have got to be able to add value to it too,” James continued. “I can say without doubt, SSL can add value, in fact, it already is in certain areas. Allen & Heath has started to do an awful lot more with Dante integration with its dLive product line, and because SSL has already got a lot of Dante experience, the teams have been working together. Funnily enough, the moment they got on the phone, they started to ask questions. If you get two designers in the room that share a common interest, it doesn’t take long for them to start sharing and contributing ideas.” Sharing and differentiating are both equally important though. The culture of each brand must remain individual, so marketing, sales and support operate independently, as does manufacturing generally, as the processes and locations differ. However, technology can be
shared between the group, which in turn leads to leveraging buying power. Certain purchasing is carried out on a group level to bring costs down and quality up. Audiotonix shares Tony Williams, Group Operations Director; Martin Bennett, Group Marketing Director, who ensures each brand has an individual identity; Chief Financial Officer, James Barton; Helen Culleton, Special Projects Director; Chief Technology Officer, Neil Hooper and of course, James. “In most cases, the group roles are about sharing,” he explained. “Neil who runs R&D - and is great at it - might, for example, go down to Allen & Heath and discover a problem, but he’ll know someone at Calrec who can help, so he’ll connect them. Neil’s role is a facilitator, he’s helping R&D move faster. James Barton is in charge of finance, he looks at it from a group perspective and accesses how we can maximise what we are doing. My role is very much about trying to make all of the businesses better. But Martin’s role is a little different - he ensures that the brands keep their own identity - therefore almost the opposite of sharing.” The individual identities are similar when it comes to team members, too. “If you ask Maria [Fiorellino, Marketing Manager of DiGiCo] who she works for, it’s 100% DiGiCo, and that goes for the rest of the team here in the DiGiCo side of the building, and those in Penryn at Allen & Heath, Oxford at SSL and Hebden Bridge at Calrec,” James explained. “And I like that. That’s the way it should be, people should be passionate about who they work for.” But it’s not to say that the brands don’t help each other out, because of course, that can offer certain advantages, if someone else in the group has prior experience in a certain situation. A prime example is Maria helping out Kevin [Emmott, Marketing Manager at Calrec] to organise celebrations for the successful launch of Brio - Calrec’s biggest tiny console, ever - because, let’s face it, we all know DiGiCo knows how to throw a good party. Kevin reciprocated by introducing Maria to a new method of photography design , meaning it’s most often a win-win situation. This mutually beneficial, giving and taking, adding value to the companies is evident in many aspects of the business such as R&D, which James highlighted: “There’s nothing better than seeing John [Stadius, Technical Director at DiGiCo] help Allen & Heath with a product that saves them two weeks of R&D time. Or John learning something from one of the young guys at Allen & Heath because they’ve given a cool graduate their first industry job. John loves working with new and emerging talent.” Of course, not all mergers are quite so harmonious. In recent years, there have been many buyouts of what were considered established brands in their own right, yet once bought out, they were swallowed up into the larger conglomerate, losing their individuality and often staff as well. “I think the employees that have worked for brands that have been consumed by bigger companies see how different we’ve done it, and to those people the creation of Audiotonix is a marvellous thing. Because I think to anyone that really cares about pro audio, we have done something quite special actually.” If you’re thinking which mixing console brand will be next to join the party, you’ll still be there the morning after the night before. “We’ve never actually categorically said we are going to stick with consoles,” said James. “We’d look at anything electronics based because we understand electronics - that’s John and the team’s forte. I think the next thing we do won’t be in mixing consoles, to be honest. It might be something different.” So there you go, you heard it here first. Watch this space. As for the man at the top of the chain - who claims he’s not actually the boss, because his job is to look after the brands and help them achieve their goals - he’s like a kid in a sweetshop by his own admission. Having started at DiGiCo at the age of just 24 , James has worked his way up over two decades, and today believes… “I’ve got the best job in the world.”
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