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Shure: Evolving, Expanding, Leading

At microphone maker Shure Inc., business in general is “considerably up from last year,” says president and CEO Sandy LaMantia: “Without hesitation, I can tell you we’re financially stable, have no debt and are doing very well.”

Shure director of Global Brand Management Mark Brunner (left) and president and CEO Sandy LaMantia. At microphone maker Shure Inc., business in general is “considerably up from last year,” says president and CEO Sandy LaMantia: “Without hesitation, I can tell you we’re financially stable, have no debt and are doing very well.” Additionally, over the past four years, “the amount of sales coming from new products has doubled,” he reports. Director Of Global Brand Management Mark Brunner says that Shure’s growth is also not based on any single region of the world: “This is really a result of concerted investments that we’ve made in infrastructure, sales and marketing, distribution, and people developing the market.”

While known as a hardware company, a sign of the times is that LaMantia reports that software is a growing area of focus for Shure. “Not only software that’s embedded in product,” he explains, “but software used to control products and to control product networks. That’s the area in product development that’s just exploding right now.” Primarily related to the company’s wireless products, including microphones, conferencing and personal monitor systems, LaMantia says that “We’re introducing more and more products that talk to each other, and we’re hoping this trend grows in the industry.”

Audio networking is a related area of focus as well, says Brunner. “We’ve been working quite hard on the AVB Alliance and incorporating Dante into a lot of products, and we’ve been happy to see that a lot of the other pro audio companies have adopted the Dante networking standards.”

With digital domain products, software also means DSP, as in digital wireless receivers. “Right now, that’s where we’re focusing most of our DSP work—on the receiver side—although it’s going to be everywhere at some point,” LaMantia elaborates. “I think the trend toward more and more digital products is making it easier for us to implement different algorithms. So talking of trends, certainly the trend towards more digital products and more embedded DSP is on fire right now.” Brunner adds that Shure’s heritage in transducer design gives the company an edge in knowing where to apply DSP algorithms to enhance microphone performance. “We see opportunity in products that are designed for speech reinforcement,” says Brunner, “more so than in professional audio or field operations where skilled operators are in place.”

Shure is adding new talent, according to LaMantia: “I can tell you we’re not replacing people, that’s for sure, because nobody ever leaves! We’re expanding. We’re expanding almost everywhere in the company, with the emphasis on product development.” That expansion didn’t slow even during the worst of the recent economic downturn, adds Brunner. “When we were going through the recession in ’08, ’09 and ’10, a lot of companies pulled back then, pulled back on product development, on their marketing. We actually did the opposite—we pushed the gas even harder and it’s paid off, with us now developing more products than we ever did in a year,” he explains. “Everybody was hurt by the recession, but in many ways, it was a good thing because it allowed us to leapfrog a lot of the competition in these high-tech areas.”

LaMantia points to the Axient and ULX-D systems as evidence of these investments, while Brunner adds that, “The move to digital transmission schemes with wireless microphones has enabled us to create products in the unlicensed spectrum where, with analog designs, we would not have been able to participate.” MI and conference customers now have products that allow them to operate in unlicensed spectrum: “These designs have enabled us to pull a large portion of the market out of the fray of the TV spectrum…our digital designs have created a relief valve, if you will, on the number of wireless microphones that are operating in the TV band.”

As for vertical markets, much of Shure’s growth has been in the conferencing side of the business, where there’s “huge potential” per LaMantia, with Shure’s entry into the space jumpstarted by the acquisition of discussion system specialist DIS in 2011. “We’re aiming a lot of our technologies, including wireless, at the market,” LaMantia explains. “I think that’s going to be our growth market in the future, a market where we’ll be innovative.”

A good deal of Brunner’s time, particularly of late, has focused on lobbying the FCC on the issues surrounding spectrum reallocations. [Steve Harvey’s cover story in this issue on the implications of the latest FCC actions includes comments from Mark Brunner made after this interview]. A decade ago, says LaMantia, “I’m not sure the FCC had a clear picture of what a wireless microphone was. Today, there’s never a spectrum discussion that goes on without wireless microphones being considered. To me, that’s wonderful and it really talks to the work that Mark and others at our company have done to educate and get in front of the FCC.” Quick to share credit, Brunner says that the microphone industry is part of the change, but adds that, “it’s all the customers that we serve and the high-visibility work they do with these products which has really helped bring the whole issue into focus for the Commission.”

The entry of new players into the headphone market is not a worry for Shure. “Our focus is on performance, it’s not on color and coolness,” explains LaMantia, while Brunner relates a recent Time magazine headphone manufacturer round-up “based on their scouring of the universe for reviews by end-users. Shure came out on top.”

While the operations at Shure have been R&D and marketing driven, traditionally, the company has still maintained a reputation for quality manufacturing even when systems have been stretched by growth (“That’s not going to change,” says LaMantia). The addition of new Senior vice president Of Operations, Chester Trocha, is seen as a move towards not just accommodating but anticipating growth. “It also should be mentioned that while maybe not as visible to customers, at least not directly, we have been making considerable investments in all of our infrastructure and systems related to manufacturing,” Brunner elaborates. “Our information technology and our processes have been a big source of focus in the past couple of years, and as Chester comes on board here, he’ll be able to push those to the next level. That’s really about being positioned for growth. Some of the approaches that we had developed toward manufacturing had been in reaction to growth. This is an attempt to be positioned to be able to expand without the stresses that might occur from continued growth.” And continued growth is expected.
Shure Inc.