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Profile: Rik Kirby, Renkus-Heinz

An Englishman abroad. Jim Evans interviews the newly appointed head of sales and marketing at US-based Renkus-Heinz

 An Englishman has been appointed head of sales and marketing at US-based Renkus-Heinz, one of the leading players in the global loudspeaker sector. Rik Kirby has been with Renkus for five years, most recently as vice president of operations, and previously as national sales manager. His resumé includes time at Turbosound and BSS Audio and before that several years as a live sound engineer. In his new position, he is responsible for the direction and co-ordination of all sales and marketing activities, as well as overseeing product management, and supporting the company’s growing application engineering department.

So how did you get into this business of pro audio?
 “As a student at Warwick University I joined the Entertainments Group where we had a Martin Audio VSR800 system and I just learned through that. At Warwick we booked a lot of the up-and-coming bands, but we were also a warm-up venue for touring bands before they embarked on their UK tours. We had a lot of quality artists coming through, including the likes of Debbie Harry, Blur and Primal Scream.
 “After that, armed with a Degree in Electronic Engineering and much to my parents’ dismay, I ended up touring the UK with bands for various rental companies. Most of my work was with Essex-based Villa Audio and Gareth Jones. After two or three years doing that, and completing a Masters Degree in Digital Electronics, an opportunity arose to join BSS Audio, which was looking for a European sales engineer. In fact, Villa Audio had been one of the first companies to buy the Omnidrive products in the UK, so I was quite familiar with this new technology.”
And then California came calling?
 “I got a call one day from Karl Brunvoll, whom I knew from the European trade shows, asking if I was interested in joining Renkus-Heinz. Bizarrely he wanted to hire me to move to the United States as US sales manager – taking an Englishman to an American company owned by a German – Harro Heinz.
 “I moved over there in 2002 as national sales manager – a great job for an Englishman to get paid to visit each and every corner of the States – fantastic, like going to 50 different countries. That was really my introduction to the science of loudspeakers. I’d worked with them, lugged boxes around and hung them in the air, but this job really got me into the science of how they work, the acoustics, modelling and everything. It was a fascinating time.”So what made you give it all up and go home?
 “After a couple of years we started to get homesick; we missed being able to walk to the pub in the evening and that kind of thing. At the same time, a friend happened to be in LA who I’d worked with at BSS and who had recently moved to Turbosound. Philip Hart, who had run Harman Pro, was running Turbosound and he had hired almost my entire BSS sales team. It was like getting the band back together again.
 The combination of being a bit homesick, and getting the chance to work with my old team back in the UK meant the move was irresistible. We moved back to West Sussex, with its lovely green fields and country pubs and it was everything we were hoping for. A great three years with Turbosound followed as I got back into the touring sound business community.”
And back to the US again?
 “Out of the blue this opportunity came up – as they do. They say once an ex-pat always an ex-pat. Our local beach in Orange County was Laguna Beach, back in England our local beach was pebbly Worthing – no contest really. Someone once said to me to always leave a company as if you plan to go back and I have always left companies amicably. I’ve been back with Renkus-Heinz for three and a half years now.”
What is your role now?
 “When I went back I was vice president of operations and then for the past year or so I was changing the business computer system. I got involved with all aspects of the company’s operations – sales, manufacturing, engineering, everything.
 “We’ve reached a point in the business where we’re very successful, very stable, and hiring more and more people. We’ve taken on sales people in the Middle East and in India for example, as well as another sales manager in the States and some applications people too, so we really needed someone to co-ordinate them and pull their activities together.
 “I’m also focusing on the bigger picture, while they’re all busy with day-to-day activities. Having an engineering background and the manufacturing side experience, I’m in a reasonable position to help with product specification and engineering, taking products through to production. I wear a number of hats. It’s exciting, challenging and keeps the brain ticking.”
What’s special about Renkus-Heinz?
 “It’s a great company to work for and it is a family business; Harro Heinz owns the company, his son Ralph is the principal designer and VP of engineering, and his daughter Monika runs administration. There’s a great family feeling. We have employees who have been with the company for 30 years.
 “As an engineering-driven company we’re not in the box-shifting business. We are finding engineering solutions, which means we have the opportunity to really get involved in the products and their development. Applying these products to different and more challenging environments is exciting. It’s satisfying to work with good people on good projects and to build the extended family to get the best results out there. I consider myself fortunate that throughout my career I’ve always looked forward to going to work in the morning – though not necessarily after an evening’s entertainment at a trade show.”
What products are you majoring on?
 “For us, Iconyx has proved to be a real turning point for the company – getting into this steerable technology and the ability to provide intelligibility that people couldn’t get before in very reverberant architectural spaces. Providing architects with something that’s aesthetically pleasing to them while also giving them a great engineered solution, sound and intelligibility is most satisfying.
 “We had a lot of customers who started trying to use it in the portable environment, live sound, so that product has now evolved into IC Live which is a higher powered more music-oriented version of the system. That’s going well, especially in the corporate production sector.”
Geographically, which regions are strongest at present?
 “With US companies, the States typically takes the lion’s share, whereas European companies are more spread out. For us, we’re pretty well balanced worldwide. Asia, China in particular, is going extremely well for us and we’re now starting to do some good business in South America and that’s very much an emerging market for us. Five years ago we couldn’t get a distributor in Brazil, now we’re working with one of the top distributors there. The Middle East has been fantastic with some really massive projects.”
You’re confident for the future?
“Very much so: I consider myself lucky to be doing what I am. The biggest challenge is finishing off the new products as we have customers screaming for them. If that’s our biggest problem it’s not a bad position to be in. It’s a good time for us. A very good time.”