With the May issue being our annual Pro Audio Issue, The Retailer had to find an executive whose stature—and whose company’s market position—merited him or her gracing our “Five Minutes With” feature. We secured an ideal interviewee in Daniel Sennheiser, who, along with his brother, Dr. Andreas Sennheiser, capably leads Sennheiser electronic GmbH & Co. KG. A truly iconic company in the pro audio space, Sennheiser electronic this year marks its 70th anniversary. During this conversation, Sennheiser discusses the company’s history and the significance of its anniversary milestone, while also addressing its key differentiators, its broad assortment of products and its global reach: extending across both continents and market segments.
Enjoy this conversation with an industry figure whose legendary family name will forever have a place in the pantheon of pro audio.
The Music & Sound Retailer: As a third-generation member of the Sennheiser family, you are ideally suited to tell us about Sennheiser’s multi-decade legacy of pursuing perfect sound. Tell us a bit about how Prof. Dr. Fritz Sennheiser founded the company, as well as its growth, evolution and rise to global prominence.
Daniel Sennheiser: My grandfather founded the company in 1945, just after WWII. He had worked at Hanover University’s Institute for Radio Frequency Engineering and Electroacoustics, and he and his colleagues, a group of seven engineers, had to find something to live on. So, my grandfather decided to set up a company and build measuring instruments in the rooms of a former university lab. They got lucky when Siemens became interested in their products. In the following years, their creative spirit added many more products to the portfolio: microphones, for instance; transformers; wireless systems; infrared systems…basically anything that had to do with acoustics or electromagnetic waves. In the beginning, the young company focused on building OEM products for many of the well-known brands of the time, and then gradually moved to marketing their products under their own brand name.
When my grandfather handed the company over to my father in 1982, it had grown to a considerable size. And my father took a great step toward global reach by deciding to set up a wholly owned Sennheiser sales network. He began founding subsidiaries: in Europe, in the U.S. and in Asia. This gave our customers worldwide direct access to Sennheiser products, as well as Sennheiser expertise, service and support.
My brother Andreas and I are continuing on this path, and it’s an honor for us to be able to do so. Being close to the customers and their needs is our main credo. And, since becoming CEOs in 2013, we have taken many organizational steps to serve our customers even better.
The Retailer: This year marks Sennheiser’s 70th anniversary: a milestone that very few companies reach…particularly companies that have remained family-owned and -operated. Explain the significance of this 70-year milestone. How does the company plan to celebrate?
Sennheiser: In fact, we already celebrated in February with all the employees…our big Sennheiser family, as it were. We indeed have a very special spirit at Sennheiser: a spirit of connectedness and commitment. Working here is so much more than just a job. Everybody is giving their best to advance our products and services. Of course, our products are something you can easily relate to. They are made for enjoying music; they’re used by artists, from emerging bands to superstars.
The Retailer: Andreas and you have been CEOs since 2013. And, as of January 1 of this year, your father, Prof. Dr. Jörg Sennheiser, handed over the chair of the Supervisory Board to Dr. Frank Heinricht. This, in effect, placed the management of the company fully into the hands of Andreas and you. Tell us a bit about these executive management changes, the reasons for them and the level of success the changes have helped to usher in.
Sennheiser: The handover from our father to Andreas and me was the result of a well-thought-through process, including a family strategy and expert advice from a very professional Supervisory Board. My father decided to retire at the age of 70. He has given us enough time to find our place in the organization, and to get to know the business. He will always be there if we need his advice, but he lets us go our own way, just as my grandfather did when he retired. Today, we have a team of family members and external managers who run the company as a team, both in the Executive Management Board and in the Supervisory Board. We believe this mixture of family members and external managers is optimal.
The Retailer: When you look at Sennheiser as a global business entity, what would you say you’re the proudest of? What makes the company stand apart from not only direct competitors in the same space, but also all companies in the pro audio, music and technology industries? What’s the “secret sauce” at Sennheiser?
Sennheiser: The secret sauce is our fascination with everything audio, our people and their commitment to the industry. The purpose that drives us all is the pursuit of perfect sound. Sennheiser is known for its excellent support and service. We are a part of this industry, and we’re proud to be able to contribute, proud to shape the audio world and proud to help those who want to leave their mark artistically: be they band and orchestra members or even exhibition designers. Being so global, we get input from all four corners of the world; we see trends emerging in one part of the world and take them to our other locations. Our work never gets boring.
The Retailer: Shine a light on some of Sennheiser’s most recent product launches and initiatives, focusing in particular on those products that are sold through brick-and-mortar music stores. What are you currently pushing most aggressively? What are the hot sellers?
Sennheiser: The latest highlight to arrive in the music stores is certainly evolution wireless D1. These products are digital wireless microphone systems that help bands and singers go wireless the easy way. They feature truly automatic frequency and interference management, intelligent channel management, automatic sensitivity adjustment and much more. This launch is accompanied by a cover song contest, called “D1 and Only.” The hot sellers in the music stores are definitely the evolution microphones. Wired or wireless, they are definitely our best-performing series. We also see products like the Sennheiser MK 4 true condenser microphone being quite a success in the music stores.
The Retailer: Discuss Sennheiser’s commitment to the brick-and-mortar music store channel. Is working collaboratively with brick-and-mortar music dealers a key part of Sennheiser’s core philosophy and fundamental approach to doing business?
Sennheiser: It is, indeed. Nothing can really replace the level of customer service and good advice that you get at a brick-and-mortar music shop, along with the possibility of trying things out. Working together with them, and tapping their immense knowledge of the market, is key for us.
The Retailer: Is there anything the dealer channel could do that would be helpful to Sennheiser as an audio products manufacturer? Do you have any suggestions for the dealer channel that would help retailers, in addition to helping Sennheiser itself?
Sennheiser: As a premium player in the field, we are very much dependent on well-educated customers who value our quality and performance. The MI channel has always played an important role in this educational endeavor. A lot of players in the field have focused on this for decades, and it’s helped them build their business as much as our own. And it’s true both online and offline. Sometimes, however, I feel that the only discussion is about price, which might give someone an advantage for a short period of time. But that strategy is very shortsighted and short-lived because, if everything is based on price only, innovation will not be possible. In the end, everyone loses, including the customer.
The Retailer: Whereas some companies we cover in The Retailer are very much focused on the North American market, Sennheiser is a company based in Germany whose market penetration spans from the Americas to EMEA to APAC, and with products that range from consumer to pro to integrated systems. Discuss the complexity—and the benefits—of being so diversified.
Sennheiser: The market complexity, for example, makes itself known when we take a look at wireless technology, such as wireless microphones. There are quite a few different regulations in place across the globe: requirements regarding frequencies, regarding permitted RF output power and so on. And these requirements must be fulfilled in order to enter the markets. So, we always have quite a range of country versions whenever we launch a wireless microphone system!
Product-group-wise, we are quite diversified, too, as you said, with products spanning from stage microphones and business solutions to stylish consumer headphones and even aviation products. The benefits are that technologies sometimes “cross the product range borders.” Our NoiseGard noise-canceling technology, for example, which we developed in the 1980s for aviation purposes, can now be found in consumer headphones.
Diversity, both product-wise and geographically, is also an advantage from a business point of view, of course. In the past, we had a few instances where one region hit by an economic crisis was counterbalanced by another, or where the same happened for two product groups. As a whole, it makes the company more stable, and we are able to constantly invest in the development of new technologies.
The Retailer: What does the future hold for Sennheiser? What can company-watchers expect as Sennheiser approaches its 80th, 90th and 100th year?
Sennheiser: I think you will see a company that will continue its quest for perfect sound. I believe that streaming solutions will play an even more dominant role in the future, also for personalizing audio content. With our streaming solutions, MobileConnect and CinemaConnect, we have taken our first significant steps in this direction. Another important aspect is immersive audio, with recording and reproduction solutions that introduce a height elevation for an absolutely stunning 3D sound. Music will always be an integral part of our lives, and you will certainly see Sennheiser working on innovative solutions that enable people to enjoy music and sound.