In December 2019, SSE Audio Group was restructured and renamed Solotech UK Group, with the new operation running under the joint leadership of managing directors Alex Penn, son of SSE founder John Penn, and Spencer Beard. Here, Alex takes us inside the new company structure and reflects on his unique career in audio so far…
What are you most looking forward to now that you’re leading the company alongside Spencer Beard?
We’re both looking forward to moving the company into a new era. Of course we’re also nostalgic for the past but as the industry evolves, so must we. As SSE Audio Group becomes the Solotech UK Group, comprising all the UK brands that we know and love, it sets the right tone for how we wish to move forward as one united force globally with a local presence and familiarity.
How will the working relationship between you and Spencer work?
Spencer and I have known each other since we were kids. Spencer was 16 when he started at SSE, and while I was still at school I was occasionally dragged in to clean cables, etc. Of course, Spencer has a couple of years on me, so he was the one driving me forward and keeping me busy in the early days when I worked freelance while studying. So we know and trust each other implicitly and we will work together as a team to keep the UK group moving forward progressively. We each have ultimate responsibility for our respective areas of the business, but we also have a healthy knowledge of what the company delivers and are well placed to support each other as well.
SSE has evolved considerably since you started working there full-time. What have been some of your personal highlights?
My focus has always been on the growth and evolution of the sales and systems integration business, which has been a major catalyst in the growth of the company as a whole. A big highlight for me was winning the installation at Nottingham’s Rock City in 2009 only two years into the job, and at the time this was SSE’s highest valued installation to date. I felt it really made a statement that we were now established in the install market. Of course, since then and following the acquisitions of both ETA Sound and Wigwam, we have gone on to deliver some of the most impressive integrated projects in the country, including Tottenham Hotspur FC and York Minster. From the live side though, seeing Rage Against the Machine perform on the Download main stage using our new L-Acoustics K1 system in 2010 was something which I can only describe as awesome.
And what have been the biggest changes?
Every acquisition we have made in the last 13 years been a highlight for various reasons. The acquisition of Wigwam, however, had the biggest impact on the company as a whole. Our team doubled overnight, and we had a major job on our hands to integrate and work with each other. It was a massive win for us. Not only did we integrate quickly, but our markets and brands were complementary to each other. We increased our team, and also massively amplified our opportunities, opening doors for the sales teams on both sides.
As the son of one of the most influential figures in the pro audio industry, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from working alongside your father over the years?
That is hard to say as there are too many things! Of course, I haven’t always found it straightforward being the boss’ son. It’s been something of an internal battle I’ve had to get over, working hard to deliver, to prove myself and to earn respect from my colleagues. However, I’ve always had a good working relationship with both my mum and dad, although sometimes it feels like I’ve never quite escaped the nest. In some ways this new era is exciting from that angle too. I have enormous respect for both of my parents, who have worked incredibly hard to build what is, by some margin, the largest pro audio service company in the UK. We intend to move forwards with the same values and culture, taught to us mainly by both John and Heather Penn.
We also recently interviewed John Penn about the new company structure and his stepping down to make way for Alex and Spencer Beard. You can read it here.