Ilsalmi, Finland—Four decades ago, two childhood friends from a remote Finnish town started a company that, at the time, seemed to have little hope of success. This year, Genelec celebrates its 40th anniversary by honoring its history as a new generation prepares to lead it into the future.
Genelec’s founders, Ilpo Martikainen and Topi Partanen, had a rough road at first in establishing the Genelec brand, today a mainstay of the professional audio industry. The 15-year-old Partanen and 17-year-old Martikainen met at school, attracted by their common love of electronics. Growing up in the forests of Finland’s Savonia province, they built loudspeakers to break the silence.
Years later, they found themselves looking for inspiration in the Finnish capital city of Helsinki. Martikainen in particular was determined to become an entrepreneur—all he needed was an opportunity. His chance came in the form of chief acoustician Juhani Borenius of Yleisradio (YLE), Finland’s national broadcaster.
“We met him at an acoustic seminar in Helsinki and he told us that [YLE] needed monitors for their headquarters,” recalls Partanen, adding that the monitors had to conform to the country’s then-new N12-B regulations, which specified that they be active monitors, with a flat frequency response and room response controls. Without hesitation, Martikainen declared, “We can make them!” It was only later, after the meeting, that Martikainen turned to his old friend and asked, “What’s an active monitor?”
The answer was the S30, the first Genelec monitor, and a turning point for the two friends. The first customer was Italy’s RAI, quickly followed by YLE. With this success, Martikainen had the opportunity to demonstrate his belief that a company could be based in the deepest forests of Finland and hold firm to the values of sustainability, yet still export products worldwide.
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This month, luminaries of the audio world will gather in the small town of Iisalmi, where the Genelec factory sits beside the serene Porovesi Lake in Finland’s Northern Savonia region, and they will toast the success of that vision.
The journey has been anything but simple. In the early years, the entire endeavor was supported by systems integration work for the Soviet Union, including the creation of a sound system for the Moscow State Circus, and there are plenty of early stories of studio engineers asking if they could use their own amplifiers with their brand-new active monitors.
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A string of notable products began in 1989 with the 1035A, quickly followed by the compact 1031, the 1038, the 8000 series and, most recently, the coaxial 8331, 8341 and 8351, collectively known as The Ones. Each model sports technologies such as the Directivity Control Waveguide, Minimum Diffraction Enclosure, Laminar Spiral Enclosure (whose aim is improving low-frequency reproduction), and Smart Active Monitoring (SAM), at the heart of which is Genelec Loudspeaker Manager (GLM) software.
Ilpo Martikainen passed away in January 2017, having achieved more than perhaps even he imagined, but the lessons he learned remain vivid in the minds of those who now lead Genelec into its next phase.
Among them are his three children: Juho, the classically trained double bassist and Genelec brand ambassador; Mikko, the software engineer whose work has spurred Genelec to new levels of efficiency; and Maria, the youngest, who now occupies her father’s old office. All three have sat on the board since 2001.
“It is always a challenge in family-owned companies for the next generation to keep the best parts of the past,” says Maria, “but what Ilpo and Topi and all of the others achieved was to keep on growing, keep on developing, and that is what we must also do. There is a risk of admiring too much. For the next generation, it’s about combining our heritage with the way we want to run this company.”
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Genelec managing director Siamäk Naghian agrees. “Ilpo was a humble and actually very shy man, but he was also a leader. He never gave up, and I think that’s very important. This new generation has a similar passion. They don’t want to just copy something somebody else has done—they want to make things better.”
Genelec • www.genelec.com