In the pro audio segment of the music products industry, there are few names more iconic than Sennheiser, a diversified global manufacturer of products that include wired microphones, wireless systems, headphones, headsets and more. It’s a company known equally for robust product quality and engineering innovation, a reputation that Sennheiser takes great care to preserve. Here, The Music & Sound Retailer speaks to Greg Beebe, President of Sennheiser Electronic Corp., the company’s U.S. subsidiary, to get a broader view of the magic that happens within the walls in Old Lyme CT. To get a look for yourself, check out their NAMM booth, #6577.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s start by discussing your background. Touch on the highlights of your story as it pertains to the audio and music products industries, as well as to music in general. Tell us about the career path you’ve traveled, bringing us right up to the present day.
Greg Beebe: As for myself, I can’t even play the kazoo. However, I have always admired musical talent and I regret never having learned how to play. My tenure at Sennheiser began as an Application Engineer in our aviation and audiology department, and then I grew into the professional division, designing wireless systems for large productions and theaters. After that, I became a Product Manager for microphones, and then Channel Manager for the music industry. This is where I really got to experience the music industry on a day-to-day level.
Sometime before that, I actually paid my own way to NAMM one year, since I was intrigued, but wasn’t part of that team yet. My first time at NAMM, I got hooked because I got to witness passion and innovation, friendly competition and genuinely altruistic people. So, when I became a Channel Manager for the music industry, it really felt like something fell into place quite nicely for me. After my Channel Manager gig, I moved to Germany and managed our Southwestern European business for a year, and then spent three years managing our Latin American business as a whole. Afterward, I spent three years creating Sennheiser Global Relations before coming back in 2010 to work at Sennheiser U.S. as Vice President of Product Marketing. I did that for a couple of years before moving into my current role as President.
The Retailer: How would you describe your day-to-day duties and responsibilities as President of Sennheiser Electronic Corp.? What’s the best part of coming to work each day?
Beebe: My day-to-day responsibilities involve aligning our operation to our strategic plan across each of our four business units. Perhaps that doesn’t sound too sexy, but that’s what I do. Every day, I work with people to help us align our operation toward that strategic plan. For me, one of the most rewarding parts of doing this is seeing other people succeed. I love it when people have light bulbs turn on or they have an “a-ha!” moment. It gives me a warm feeling to see people add a new tool to their toolbox, or to see them recognize that their success is paramount to us. We don’t simply view them as instruments to our success as individual leaders but, rather, view this more collectively as a company.
The Retailer: Let’s talk about Sennheiser in broad strokes. Give us a 10,000-foot overview of the company, discussing its history and some of the key characteristics and qualities that it embodies. Share details about its growth and development over time, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Beebe: In broad strokes, our mission is this: We shape the future of audio based on our heritage, innovation, culture and passion for excellence. Some of the values our company embodies are excellence, integrity, passion, respect, an entrepreneurial spirit, empathy, curiosity and openness. Those values bracket an effort we refer to as “ACT,” which stands for Accountability, Communication and Transparency. At Sennheiser, we have no secrets except for our salaries. From a broad perspective, these are all values that illustrate who we are.
As far as our history, this is well documented from a humble beginning that really started back in 1945, when Fritz Sennheiser was with a group of seven engineers who wanted to start building microphones. These engineers were also from the University of Hanover, so they already knew each other really well. They began working on this microphone called the DM2. By 1955, the operation grew to 250 employees. Another milestone was the DM4, a noise-compensating microphone that came soon after. Another big product came in 1968, when Sennheiser introduced the world’s first “open aire” headphone, the HD414. In 1980, Sennheiser entered the aviation market, as the primary headset provider to Lufthansa Airlines. There is so much rich history, and this is all immaculately documented on our Web site.
As far as U.S. history is concerned, Sennheiser was initially distributed here by an individual named Thomas Schillinger. The story goes that he would walk around New York City with a suitcase full of MD 421 microphones, and he made one of his first big sales to NBC. He knew Fritz Sennheiser very well and he was essentially a territory salesman. So, Sennheiser got its foot in the door in the U.S. essentially by going door-to-door to the large broadcasters. In 1990, Sennheiser Germany acquired that business from Schillinger, and the rest is history. We initially had two offices in New York City. However, in 1991, we had to leave because, back then, RF wireless was crystal controlled. It was therefore impossible to tune crystals in areas full of taxicabs that had high-powered transmitters in their cars! So, we began searching to find a place up north; at the time, Andrew Brakhan was the President of the company. He and his associate drove north on I-95 and, lo and behold, found Old Lyme CT. We established operations here and, since then, moved once in 1996 to accommodate our growth.
The Retailer: When you look at Sennheiser Electronic Corp. as it currently exists, what would you say you’re the proudest of? What makes the company stand apart, not only from its competitors but also from all companies in the audio and music products industries?
Beebe: To me, this is easy: I am most proud of the people. Sennheiser has been a subsidiary in the U.S. for 21 years, and the average tenure we have here is nearly eight years. It makes me proud to see that we have had such a positive effect on people’s lives, both personally and professionally. For most of us, there is no door that closes, and Sennheiser has become part of our DNA. We sometimes kid that we have blue running through our veins. Part of what makes it special—and, in some cases, radically unlike any of our competitors—is that we are an independent, family-owned global company that has local market knowledge and that is always expanding. Currently, we are in the third generation of family-owned operation, and debt free. That’s a very wonderful place to be, because we don’t have shareholders or the stock market breathing down our necks for quarterly results. Professor Sennheiser has actually said that we can think in generations, not quarters. So, we do this for the long term, and that makes us special.
The Retailer: To what extent would you say that the team at Sennheiser Electronic Corp. is a very musically oriented and technically adept one, where the audio products you’re involved with on a day-to-day basis are also a big part of your lives once you leave the office?
Beebe: Most of the people here are musically inclined. As with many companies in our industry, there are several performing musicians on staff here at Sennheiser. We occasionally provide our employees with opportunities to display their talent through events that we organize, such as our “Band Nights.” This gives everyone at our company a chance to enjoy the talent that our employees have. As far as technical competencies go, there is a tremendous depth of know-how here and many opportunities to exercise this on a daily basis. Our people go to great lengths each day to shape the future of audio. For example, the recent Invisible Cities opera event in Los Angeles was a wonderful display of how our heritage and the innovation culture give people the opportunity to think beyond what we already know. It displayed how you can marry technology and art to create an event that has never been done before.
The Retailer: Shine a light on some of Sennheiser’s most recent launches and initiatives. What are you going to be pushing most aggressively as we kick off this year with the NAMM show?
Beebe: Our Digital 9000 series wireless system is a result of more than a decade of research and development. It has already been embraced by a variety of professionals in several different applications. For example, it was used for the Country Music Awards, and is being used in other areas of theater, live sound and broadcast. This system is just about a year old and has already opened people’s minds to the prospect of what digital wireless can offer. On the other side of the spectrum, I am also excited by our LSP 500 PRO, because there is no product on the market quite like it. It fills a void in terms of the professional, portable wireless PA system. I also think that our SD Wireless telephony headsets are incredible products, and these are being used routinely in small offices, home offices and enterprises. Finally, our new Presence noise-cancelling headset is revolutionizing the Bluetooth headset market. A lot of people don’t know that Sennheiser is so diversified. At NAMM, we will be showing our DJ headsets, as well as a wide range of other products that play in other markets, but that have a home in the music industry, as well.
The Retailer: What is Sennheiser’s philosophy when it comes to working with dealers and the dealer channel? Would you say that working closely with dealers is a big part of Sennheiser’s fundamental approach to business?
Beebe: Dealers are absolutely a fundamental part of Sennheiser’s approach to business. In fact, I personally view dealers as an important extension of the Sennheiser brand. Over the years, end users have come to trust and respect Sennheiser products, and we highly value the key role that dealers have in maintaining and extending our overall value proposition. They are a very important part of our family and we enjoy very good relations with them.
The Retailer: Is there anything that the dealer channel could do that would be helpful to Sennheiser as a company? Do you have any suggestions for the channel that would help retailers, as well as the company itself?
Beebe: This is a delicate subject, but I think that paying attention to legitimate outlets is very important. So, if a customer walks in and says, “Will you match this price, because this other dealer is offering the product for less?” we would hope that a dealer doesn’t price match just because another dealer is selling the item for less. I would advise that dealers check to see if the other dealer is an authorized Sennheiser reseller. If they are not, they might be getting the product through illegitimate means, or it may be counterfeit. At the end of the day, a dealer might be putting smaller margins in their register if this hasn’t been vetted. So, I would strongly encourage dealers to look at our authorized dealer listing, which is on our Web site and with which we are very open.
Also, with respect to this, a dealer should ensure that customers know that, if they send in a product for repair with a receipt from an unauthorized reseller, they will have to pay for the repair, as it won’t be covered under warranty. Dealers should educate consumers only to purchase from authorized resellers, because educated consumers will not want to take the risk of purchasing something from an unauthorized reseller. Educating consumers in this way will help dealers maintain healthy margins to fund their operation, growth and sustainability.
The Retailer: Looking back at the economic tumultuousness of recent years, to what extent have economic difficulties affected Sennheiser, both in the U.S. and abroad? What proactive steps, if any, did the company take in the early stages of the downturn to minimize economy-related pain?
Beebe: Sennheiser has the continued benefit of being able to make economic-related decisions across generations. We also have the benefit of having global manufacturing capabilities. Although the negative economy has had an effect on us, we continue to invest proactively. This might seem counterintuitive, since the easy thing to do in a difficult economy is to retrench and hoard your cash. Most people would consider 2013 to have been a relatively difficult year, but Sennheiser has acquired two subsidiaries and invested in the building of an innovation campus at our headquarters. These kinds of investments help shape our future. There will be difficult years and difficult decades. But if, as I’ve stated, you look at these challenges with the mindset that you exist in perpetuity or across generations, economic downturns really become less impactful.
The Retailer: What does Sennheiser Electronic Corp.’s future hold? What changes might we anticipate at the beginning of this new year?
Beebe: The future at Sennheiser is bright because our leadership team here in Connecticut has crafted an aggressive, tactful plan to align with our core operations strategy. The main changes for us this year will be where we focus our investments. We are going to continue to invest in opportunity-rich business units. We are also going to sharpen our efforts in customer service, while executing on our individualized employee-development plans to ensure we shape the organization of tomorrow today.