by Dave Robinson and Frank Wells
As reported in the June edition of Pro Sound News, musician and technologist Peter Gabriel and broadcast industry entrepreneur, David Engelke, have purchased Solid State Logic. The management team recruited by the new owners has also been announced. Antony David, SSL's sales director in the 80's and early 90's, later head of Pro Audio at Sony Broadcast & Professional Europe, has been named managing director; Piers Plaskitt, previously president of SSL Inc. (U.S. division of SSL) and one-time president sales & marketing at Euphonix, is group commercial director; and Chris Smith is group finance director. For the USA, after 13 years at SSL, first as vice president western region then senior VP, Phil Wagner has been promoted to President of SSL, Inc, putting him in charge of sales and customer service for all of North America.
It was Antony David, a friend of Gabriel's for many years (and the man who sold Gabriel both his SSL consoles and his Sony Oxford desk), who introduced Gabriel to Engelke. "I think Peter took an interest in it as soon as it was put up for sale," the new managing director told Pro Sound News. Gabriel, who owns two Series 4000G consoles, has had a long time involvement with technology: he was instrumental in the creation of the former Syco Systems, while OD2, which was developed by Gabriel's Real World Multi Media, is a leading European platform provider for the distribution of on-line music. David added that Gabriel's right-hand man, MD of Real World Mike Large, deserves a lot of praise for his part in the proceedings. "He was very much central in putting this together," David explained.
Former SSL console owner and American, David Engelke, who heads up Broadcast Devices LLC, has been involved with production and broadcast companies including Pinnacle Systems, Montage Group, and Digital Editing Services and invented several widely adopted technologies in the broadcast industry. Technologies developed by him and his engineering teams have earned them three EMMY Awards from the U.S. National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and an OSCAR from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
"The Solid State Logic brand stands for excellence like no other pro audio company in the world," declared Engelke. "We are investing to strengthen the company and bring these brand values to a broader market through continued innovative product development." The partners now own all of the assets in a 50/50 split. Details of the sale price were not disclosed.
"[SSL] had an 'unhappy experience' with venture capitalists owning it," opined David. "If the company was going to have a secure future, it needed people behind it who had a greater understanding of the business. Gabriel and Engelke represent music recording and broadcast, which are the markets we want to serve; and they represent both sides of the Atlantic, too. So they both bring a lot to the party." Plaskitt echoed those sentiments, adding, "It's really cool sitting down with Peter Gabriel and David Engelke, and just talking about the future, and hearing their vision-it's extraordinary."
On a personal level, Antony David noted that, after 11 years away, it was "really exciting to be back". "It's really nice to have the opportunity to take a strong brand and do something really good to it."
Plaskitt said that his recent visit to the SSL's Oxford, UK headquarters was a bit of a homecoming, allowing renewed acquaintance with long-time company personnel, their enthusiasm making the job "fun", a word Plaskitt said he's used a lot of late. "There's some incredibly smart people in this company," he said. "Last week, in England, we began a process of just sort off unleashing them, allowing them to talk, to tell us about what they felt the future of the company should be, programs and product ideas. One of the great phrases to come out of this, is that at SSL now, we've got artists working with scientists, and it's going to really give us an incredible edge on the future."
Wagner called the new structure of the company is the "best of all possibilities...I'm delighted with the current ownership and the board of directors, it's amazing. Given all the choices, this is the dream scenario. Antony David and Piers Plaskitt returning represent a very strong fit for SSL. They were very involved in the 80s and 90s, and are recognized for their greatness and quality in leadership. They represent the core principles of SSL, that people count on to this day. We're going to reinforce our core principles of innovation, quality and support...going back to Colin Saunders, our founder. Of course we have to adapt to the changes and technology of the day, and we will."
The ties of the new management to the peak days of SSL's business is "mostly good" said Plaskitt. "We're being careful not to behave like we're at our peak, because that's the way that many of us fondly remember it. There's a lot of work to be done, and it's going to be tough." He said the new management team made sure they knew exactly what challenges they would face. "It's not a surprise. Before we got into the company, there was a significant amount of due diligence, and part of that was some very direct market research. This was done by a third party at our request, basically going around, talking to SSL customers, but also to people around the world that use other people's consoles."
For the past few years, Plaskitt has worked outside the audio business, living in the American heartland in Iowa, which he'll keep as his base of operation, citing modern communications as making the world effectively smaller. "Traditionally, this position is based in England," he elaborated. "95 percent of our customers are not in England, and I think that this is a job where you need to be talking to customers." Plaskitt has already traveled to Japan, Korea, New York, L.A. and, of course, the UK, in his short days in the new position.
"I have the sales managers from the US office, the Japanese and French offices, and the UK offices reporting to me," said Plaskitt. "And my job is to listen to what's going on in their markets, and help them react accordingly." Similarly, Wagner will continue to be based in SSL's L.A., office, and will regularly travel to the US headquarters in New York City.
As for immediate plans, David said the situation was currently under assessment. "We will strengthen some functions and make others more efficient--but we are determined to drive the company forward." Large scale consoles are not off the agenda at the new-look SSL, it seems. "We have several XL 9000Ks in production--we're actually building more than we've budgeted for!" he laughed. "There seems to be an analog revival at the moment."
The SSL XLogic rack mount outboard gear and the AWS-900 DAW companion console are offered by Wagner as examples of SSLs product line evolution, but he offers one constant: "We have a unique relationship with our customers, and they have a strong bond to the nuances of what we provide. We intend to continue the strengths we've maintained over the years. An investment in technology comes with an expectation of innovation and long term support, and we provide that."
Plaskitt said the biggest surprise to come out of their market research was that, despite a reputation for selling expensive products, customers shopping for price found that SSL pricing was not a lot different than the competition. "Competitive is probably the worst thing you can say about us," he summarizes. "Priced to sell is probably the most aggressive thing you can say" SSL's reputation for excellent customer service will be another constant, according to Plaskitt.
"We get a ton of repeat business, and you get that by taking care of your customer base," he explained. "It's really nice working for a company where we say, 'the answer is yes, what's the question?'" That level of service has to be reflected in product pricing, he said, though he opined that while SSL products may not be the least expensive, "we will always be the best value," because of their durability and the long term support.
Plaskitt promises product announcements at this fall's IBC and AES conventions. "You'll see some first hand evidence of SSL's ability to quickly respond to marketplace requirements," he said. "I think that that's one of more significant things that we're implementing. You can't wait around. If your customers are telling you what they need, and you can get some uniformity of feedback, you absolutely have to react to it. You can't sit around saying 'we know better than you do.'"
by Dave Robinson and Frank Wells