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Hungry for success: Interview with Avid’s Louis Hernandez Jr

PSNEurope talks exclusively to the man with, arguably, the most important role in pro audio – the new CEO of Avid

Louis Hernandez Jr took the reigns at Avid in February of this year, when the previous CEO, Gary Greenfield, departed.

No stranger to the company, Hernandez had already spent five years on the board, watching as Greenfield reshaped and realigned, sometimes controversially, the media tools giant.

At IBC this year, it was time for the new boss to shine, launching his ‘Avid Everywhere’ campaign and an initiative called ‘Customer Association’.

Hernandez has strong views on community, leadership and bringing people together. “There are a lot of companies doing interesting things, but not enough being beacons and investing in areas that are better for the long term,” he tells PSNEurope in an exclusive chat. “If you don’t fight for the connection between two people, you aren’t going to win long term.”

Who is Louis Hernandez, Jr? I grew up in Southern California. My parents are immigrants, I grew up as a technologist in Silicon Valley because my father was a professor of technology. My education is in economics and finance; the first thing I did was teach. Then I was an advisor to hi-tech companies; since then I’ve been buying, starting, running and investing in technology.

Any time you can bring humans closer to technology, I try to participate. [My holding company] has created and built applications in sports and media, in e-commerce and in banking as three major areas. The last company I ran, Open Solutions, was a start-up. I sold it for a billion dollars on a Friday and I started here on a Monday.
You have quite the Midas touch! No, I just stay attuned to how to bring people closer. The reason I told you about my upbringing here is, if you have immigrant parents, you’re Latin, Catholic – you don’t worry about a lot of things. You don’t worry about the money or the capital – you just try to do something that matters.

If you’ve read my books – I sure you have, they’re very romantic – they are steeped in ways of working better. And that’s the thesis for Avid.
You came onboard with Gary Greenfield, five years ago. He’s more of a cost person, I’m more of a creative, despite having degrees in finance and economics. My joy comes from creating things that people want to join me in. My last company, Open Solutions, should give you a clue as to how I think technology should operate.
What should Avid do to move forward? What Avid has had to reconcile is this: its brand is built on proven technology. Historically, to work well, you had to control most of the elements, à la Apple, but in today’s environment the tools exist for you to do both, where you can have a platform that meets the needs of the community and is still flexible.

‘Open’ doesn’t mean free, it means inclusive. Include more people: the more people in the community, the faster it improves. That’s what I’ve learned.
For the first eight months with Avid, what have you been doing? Designing our current suite so it can morph into a way to address the largest issues in the industry. The new model – Avid Everywhere – is all about bringing people closer; about connecting the creatives with the customers. You should read the White Paper…
[In short], you’ll have a stable efficient platform, and you’ll have these lighter, more interoperable components you’ll be able to work with.
You’ll see creative assets, sharing, collaborating etc but you’ll see new applications that will allow you to protect the asset, repurpose it, enable multiple devices or channels… so if you finish an audio file and you have 16 distribution partners, through toggle switches through one application, it automatically reformats that without you having to work out the rights management issues.
How this will look in a practical sense? You are on the platform, you download the apps. If you are a Pro Tools user, you purchase the distribution device, you download the app that handles that. The point is that it’s all on the same platform – integrated, interoperable, much more efficient – it diverts the time you spend on the technology of connecting with the customer/end user to more time spent on the joy – that comes from your ideas, from the creative assets. You want to edit, mix, ingest… you’re already there. And it all integrates with PT11 and the S6.
We’re going to have one big thing we will announce, we’re going to be announcing an ‘algorithmic automatically-generated metadata tagging standard’. Try saying that when you’re drunk. I’ve tried, believe me. [Laughs] No, the reason this is important, this is an automatic tagging tool for the creative and monetisation process. Handling rights management, copyright protection, and so on. This will be a standard we announce next year: our customers will descend on Vegas before NAB to see certain modules be presented there.
And what of Customer Association? We just feel someone needs to step forward and address the bigger issues in the industry – Customer Association I think is the most ambitious, largest community for creative professionals in the world. It will be run for, and by, our clients, run by us and administered by us. There will be seven user groups, for strategy and standards and so on. If the right people get involved, we will invest our money smarter and better and have a bigger impact on industry needs. We’ve heard ‘customer focused’ before – is this really different? Before, when I first joined, people used to say, not only do I not like Avid, I’m actively looking for a way to LEAVE Avid. They don’t say that any more. They might not be happy with everything we do, but there has been a dramatic improvement. You look at PT11, that was a 24-month effort, probably the most collaborative product ever. Look at S6, that’s because our users started talking to us again.
The share price is at the lowest it’s been. Are you confident this strategy is going to bring it back up to a more workable level? The price is suppressed by this technical accounting issue, which we intend to resolve in the time [alloted] and we are confident we will move past this. Then we can talk more actively about what we’ve been up to. Most people are encouraged by where Avid’s going now. You seem very different to the last CEO, Louis. Gary had to take steps… I can appreciate a company that has to [do that] in order to invest in the right areas. And what has emerged as the right areas? A fantastic Pro Tools and S6 line-up, and Sibelius is alive and well and still being invested in. Had [Greenfield’s team] not made the changes, I’m not sure we would be able to say those things today.
Dave Robinson