by Frank Wells
Burnley, UK (July, 2005): Tom Misner–President and Founder of the multi-national SAE Group of audio education institutions–announced in mid June the acquisition of console manufacturer AMS Neve. AMS-Neve gets not only an infusion of capital in the deal, but Misner told Pro Sound News that they also get “a brand new start as a company, effectively.”
He said the purchase was made clean and outright, without charging the investment back to AMS-Neve for repayment. “No debts or liabilities,” said Misner. “I own the building, there’s no debt-absolutely a positive cash-flow company.” AMS-Neve is fulfilling all existing orders, and will be able to finish them much quicker, he said, partly through double production shifts planned to start about two weeks after the purchase. “It can grow,” said Misner. “The main problem of Neve before was the growth aspects, and I’ve just made Neve more stable as a company.”
Management and operation of AMS-Neve and SAE will remain largely independent, “As much as you can remain independent if I own you,” quiped Misner. “It’s a very solid company with the existing management team. We’re streamlining in a few areas only.” Mark Crabtree remains Managing Director of AMS-Neve, and Misner said the team may be bolstered with some new and former employees, and Crabtree will have the support necessary to spend more time on R&D and market development. SAE will provide strategic and marketing input, and take over such tasks as web design for AMS-Neve. No long term staffing needs have been determined, with fairly stable numbers expected over the longer view. In an official statement, Crabtree said “we are very happy to now be part of such a strong global organization. With the full support of the SAE Group it will enable us to increase our market share and above all accelerate the introduction of our new product range.”
Details on AMS-Neve’s new range of SAE influenced products are being closely held, though Misner said they will come to market quickly as “most of them had been under development.” Misner confirmed that one could safely assume that some of the new products will support the interface with DAW based production, including plug-ins. SAE and Misner’s “unique inside knowledge on the music side” will impact these and future product’s development, he said, adding that AMS-Neve will still rely on customer input as well, particularly in film and broadcast where SAE doesn’t profess to have as much specialized knowledge.
“There’s nothing being taken out of the line-up,” said Misner then suggesting that while the current product line will remain intact, there may be some nomenclature changes. He said development will continue on the existing line, such as expanding Audiofile’s compatibility with current Windows versions. While he called the top-end product line “excellent,” he said the overall range of products “lacks a little” in the midrange. When asked about a possible midline console/DAW controller entry, Misner replied in jest with a pondering tone of voice, “perhaps something in that very class-it had not occurred to me at all,” then added that a product in that genre is already well into development.
For SAE, Misner said that there is value “by association with quality, Neve has an impeccable name.” Where SAE’s strongest market has traditionally been recording, he believes the new ties between the companies will benefit SAE in other areas such as broadcast. SAE will continue to equip its facilities with a variety of products. “[The purchase] does not mean that we will buy no more SSL products or Focusrite products or whatever,” said Misner. “We’ll still be buying Apple and everybody else’s products as well. We’re not going to be teaching Neve only, like nothing else exists in the world. The concept of SAE is not going to change.”
“The simple promotional power of SAE,” will help AMS-Neve gain market share, according to Misner. He calls pro audio “quite a fickle market,” adding, “sometimes when people are insecure about the future of a company, and about to spend 200, 300 500 thousand dollars buying a console, they’re going to think twice about it. That is now overcome because it’s on a solid financial backing and footing.” AMS-Neve’s tradeshow presence, in tandem with SAE, is expected to increase immediately, which will be “obvious” at AES in the fall. New product categories will also mean a presence for AMS-Neve at conventions like NAMM.
Future operations will in part be impacted by consultations with Swiss and German manufacturing experts–consultants with a prior relationship to Misner, brought in for objective efficiency and organizational studies. The goal, said Misner is refinement, providing “streamlining and just improving systems behind the scenes. For example, Neve is now able to buy metal boxes in lots of a thousand rather than in lots of ten, and that affects the price, which will be passed on [to the customer]. I’m aiming at more efficiency, a quicker turnaround so products can come out faster-a more just-in-time manufacturing process.” Manufacturing will remain in place at the headquarters in Burnley, Lancashire, GB.
Misner said an AMS-Neve console ordered for a film or post install might actually be delivered as a showroom console to a nearby SAE college, as customers from these facilities prefer training to occur outside their own studios, prior to final install. SAE would then provide free training to the operators, and students would benefit from exposure to the technology.
With over 45 schools in 20 countries, SAE is continuing to add to their number of educational sites-and now potential AMS-Neve showrooms and training centers. One of their largest colleges to date is nearing completion in Dubai, United Arab Emirates–building into a technological center called Knowledge Village and attaching 11 smaller schools in the region. A large European head office is under construction in Berlin. SAE Los Angeles about to come on line in the US, to be followed by Atlanta then Chicago.
Originally intrigued by Solid State Logic going on the market earlier this year, Misner said he later realized that AMS-Neve was “just as well positioned.” Misner has a long history with Neve consoles, having learned, recorded and taught on models from the 70 and 80 series’ along with Vs, V3s and the current analog flagship 88R. Misner said he’s not actively looking for further acquisitions, but always is on the look out for “opportunities.” AMS-Neve represents “a venture that we can contribute in many different ways,” he said, adding, with a smile in his voice, that the purchase is “part of the overall SAE global domination. I have a psychological problem with being number two in any market.” He cited AMS-Neve as leading some market areas, trailing in others, while competing in a close race in others. “Too close for me,” he proclaimed, “I like total domination.”