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18 INTERVIEW: ALEXANDER PIETSCHMANN, ADAM HALL

April 2017

Working with a purpose

Adam Hall is a 40-year-old company, rooted in event technology, that has expanded in recent years into the installation space. Paddy Baker talked to its CEO about attacking new markets, succession planning – and how a company that began in Southend is now headquartered near Frankfurt

W

hen you hear the name ‘Adam Hall’, what do you think of? A UK manufacturer of flight cases? A German company that chose an English-sounding name? Or even an American ice-hockey player? These are all aspects of the “diffuse picture” of the company that exists, particularly outside Germany, says CEO Alexander Pietschmann. Here’s the real story. The company was founded in 1975 in Southend-on-Sea, 60km east of London, by Adam Hall – “he really exists!” laughs Pietschmann – and began by making flight case fittings. In 1980, Dave Kirby, an English musician whose band played a lot of gigs on US military bases in Germany, found that “no-one else here was offering parts for building flight cases”. So he founded Adam Hall GmbH, which expanded into other products, including DIY loudspeakers and audio accessories. After a few years, “it got better and better and the German company grew faster than the English one, so Dave bought Adam out and took over.” Adam Hall GmbH is headquartered in Neu-Anspach, about 40km north of Frankfurt. Pietschmann’s connection to the company goes back a long way. “My father Tilo was the first salesman at the company after Dave – he joined in 1987,” he explains. “He’s a musician – I grew up in an artist family in East Germany, behind the

wall – he was like a rock star for the Communists, always on tour in the Eastern Bloc. So that was my connection to music, and after my father entered the company there was always a connection to Adam Hall and to Dave.” Today, Pietschmann Senior is still an Adam Hall salesman, aged 64. At university, Alexander studied business and law, and set up an event company running student parties. “Then we got requests from companies like Pricewaterhouse Coopers and agencies that wanted to advertise in student environments to catch the best talent at an early stage. Then we got connections to companies, and did corporate events, and then it turned into a restaurant and a nightclub in Frankfurt – which of course is nice when you’re young, but after a few years your audience becomes too old to keep coming.”

Product development He sold his company, completed his studies and joined the Adam Hall Group. “I entered the company in 2006, and we were developing more brands. I took care of our branding and product development. In the ten years from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s it was OK to buy products from Asia and put your logo on them, maybe do some quality checks, but I could see that it could not go on like this much longer. You need differentiation, USPs and development power in the product.”

So the company started R&D and marketing departments, and over the next few years created new brands in the event technology and retail markets, such as Cameo (lighting) and Gravity (premium stands). Today, the company’s portfolio also includes loudspeakers, power amplifiers, cables and cable protectors, and stage systems. Overall the Adam Hall Group has more than 7,000 products in its warehouses, and has market presence in Europe, Asia and North America. The company no longer owns manufacturing facilities for any of its brands. “In these times it’s more about design and R&D than manufacturing,” says Pietschmann. In the 1990s the company had a head start building relationships with manufacturers in China and Taiwan because it had already set up purchasing and quality offices there. “We were manufacturing parts, and we asked the people what kind of electronics we could do there.” Back then, he says, not speaking the local language was a real barrier to doing business in the Far East. Moving into electronics manufacturing led to the creation of the Link Dynamics loudspeaker brand, which became LD Systems.

Succession plan In 2010 Pietschmann became a member of the Adam Hall executive board. As part of the

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