FRANKFURT, GERMANY—“We’re running; we’re not walking,” is how Loud Technologies CEO, Mark Graham, describes the momentum within Loud five months into his tenure. Graham is a 22-year audio industry veteran who moved to Loud from Crown International, where he served as president. He replaced former CEO Rodney Olson, who began his stint at Loud in 2008.
Loud is predominantly owned by Sun Capital Partners, an equity firm that sought Graham out for the position, telling him, “We need a vision.” Graham says that, “These businesses are actually in a really nice position, each one of them, and [that ’s] what attracted me over.” He says his acceptance of the position was conditioned on injecting investment capital into the various Loud brands (Al v a r e z , Ampe g , Crate, EAW, Mackie, Mar t in Audio and Tapco), telling Sun that “each one of those brands is unique, awesomely unique, and innovation grew the companies. And so, if you want to be successful with those, you’ve got to let them [innovate].” Sun Capital has “given me all that I asked for,” he says, including the free rein to “decentralize” the Loud brands. “I want Martin to stand on its own, I want EAW to stand on its own, I want them to compete,” Graham offers as an example. “They come to the market in their own way—homogenizing that is just a losing strategy.”
Mark Graham at the 2011
& Sound His main charge f rom Sun was to, “grow the business,” c omme n t s Gr a – ham, adding that he “wouldn’t have been interested in a commodity organization. If you’re really about just following and hitting a price point, it’s not my game.” Within Loud, conversations focus on strengthening the current brands. “The conversation usually goes like this,” he reveals: “I will say, ‘Who are your core customers? OK now, tell me how you’re going to delight them.’”
Graham is an EE, though he confesses to having never worked as an engineer: “I’ve always come up on the technical, strategic side of leadership. I have led the R&D teams, I’ve led the marketing team…I’m really a strategist.” His technical background, he observes, “allows me to understand what the technology is and how it’s in play.” In his role as corporate strategist, Graham states that “what we’re going to do is that we are legitimately, very seriously, going to innovate. You will see a lot of new product out of us. It’ll start to hit in the fall, but it takes a little more incubation time to get real innovation out. So early next calendar year, you’ll see some big things out of all our brands…You’ll see each brand driving in its own unique way… You’ll see a lot of innovation on the marketing front as well.” Graham says he’s “really impressed with the caliber of the marketing team,” and sees his role as “unleashing them to do the things they’re great at.”
Graham reports that each of the Loud brands is profitable and separately reviewed. While not sharing numbers, he says that Loud “just completed our strongest quarter in four years; set records. Martin had its best quarter ever. We grew year over year, we were up 20 perecnt as an overall business.” Graham explains that he can’t take the credit— this success being built on initiatives already in play, but “the momentum [is] in the right direction, and strongly in the right direction.”
Loud’s purchase of Martin Audio, when it already owned EAW, both being premium live-sound brands, was considered curious by many industry observers. Graham says that the decentralization of the Loud brands, to include distribution channels, will allow the two brands to compete in the marketplace according to their own corporate and product character. “One of the things I want everybody to know is,” he insists, “there’s no way I’m favoring either one of them. I’m investing in both, I’m doing everything I can to help both be as successful as they absolutely possibly can, and it feels to me like they’re able to live quite happily that way.” Graham applauds the return of EAW manufacturing to the U.S., an initiative that was already underway when he arrived at Loud.
While Mackie products have a degree of ubiquity, they now compete in a retail marketplace crowded with products in categories Mackie pioneered. Graham says the Mackie brand has a differing status in different parts of the world. While Mackie is not considered a top-end brand in U.S. and European touring, in Asia, for example, “It’s on the high end. It’s the rental companies that are buying Mackie. You don’t have garage bands. It’s real companies that are carrying SRM450s and putting them on a stick. That’s actually what that business is. You go to China and, no exaggeration, you want a mixer, they don’t say ‘Oh, I’ll need an 8-channel mixer.’ They’ll say ‘I need an 8-channel Mackie.’ At its core, I think Mackie is, is a value play, but it’s a value play with a lot of innovation and personality.”
Graham predicts that with the products in the pipeline for early 2012, “I think you’ll see Mackie get its stride back.” Graham further hints that additional initiatives will include maximizing the awareness of EAW’s “very compelling install product line” and new applications of Martin’s MLA technologies. He credits some of Martin’s current success with a “halo effect” related to MLA, with customers exploring that technology also discovering the depth of Martin’s product offerings.
“I’m having the best time of my career,” Graham summates. “Sometimes, as you step up, the pressure goes up and it becomes business instead of doing what you’re passionate about. I’m in such a lucky position, because I get to do both and I have a lot of fun.”
Pro Sound News editor Frank Wells sat down with Mark Graham in April at Musikmesse/ ProLight & Sound show in Frankfurt.