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LOUD and still proud

Earlier this year, Pro Sound News (US) editor Frank Wells spoke to LOUD CEO Mark Graham following his realigning of the Mackie and EAW brands

Mark Graham has led LOUD Technologies as CEO, president and chairman for three years now. In 2011, Graham told PSNEurope (and US sister title Pro Sound News) that he was busy decentralising the operation and management of LOUD’s various brands, putting the staff in more autonomous work groups, building up the resources for each and making the brands more independent while not isolated. “The transition’s done,” Graham proclaims. “Now we’re all ready for the next phase and taking on the next layer of challenges.

“2013 was a big year for LOUD,” he continues. “Our goal is, obviously, to build strong, good brands. We organise ourselves to have brands that are connected to our customers, making decisions at that level and quickly. We’ve done all that, but the other goal is to build strong leaders and leadership teams. To have an effective decentralized organisation you have to do that.”

Graham cites a senior staff member as calling LOUD the “proud parent of high-achieving children”, and, as with children, “you live vicariously through them and really start to feel the results and enjoy the chance to celebrate with them on their successes. In 2013 we saw the teams really hit their stride, they executed their plan to cross a bunch of fronts very well and their businesses ran extremely well because of it.”

He offers the example of EAW, which started 2013 with a thinner top-level leadership team, “but we added in a VP of operations manufacturing, [and] a VP of sales [Rusty Waite].” (Two new employees have recently been added to the marketing team, Waite further reports: an art director and an events and marketing coordinator.) “We completely retooled the R&D team; now you have EAW with a hot product [Anya], actually several of them, and a really strong leadership team [under Jeff Rocha] and they’re off and running strong. And in the Martin Audio team they’ve been on a run for a while and we’re just thrilled with them.”

When Graham began his tenure at LOUD, he says he sat down and talked to the team, saying, “I know this model that you’re in, I’ve been in it, I hate it.” The team agreed, he recalls, and now the value of a decentralised, brand-focused model is being realized. “Innovative product, reliable supply, high quality, service and support as you expect, is all just there and humming.”

(In a PSNEurope report of October 2013, the Martin Audio management described how their loudspeaker business had been empowered to “do what we want to do” in the decentralising process.)

Three years ago, perception of the LOUD brand Mackie had changed from that of a market leader to more of a perennial brand of affordable, commodity level gear. “The quality is outstanding,” asserts Graham. “The [DL1608] digital mixer has been a huge hit and then the series of innovative powered loudspeakers that are coming in have all been extremely successful. We’ve built, I hope, some credibility and [proved] we can consistently deliver innovation and that we can be a reliable good partner. If you’re a dealer or a contractor, you have to have a reliable partner because you make your living by selling the products. We’re actually at the point now where the momentum is naturally picking up.”

While hesitant to share details of what’s in Mackie’s pipeline, Graham says that in the categories where Mackie previously drove the market, “you can expect more of that and soon…we have to lead and we want to. We like it.” In crowded market categories, Graham says “innovation and creativity” will be the basis for Mackie’s initiatives, mentioning adaptive loudspeaker technology, networking, digital mixing and digital processing as elements that “will come together in interesting, awesomely fun products.” He continues, “There’s no amount of whizzy marketing or any type of pricing strategy or whatever you think that’s going to drive us to success. It’s product. And so we need to invest, we need to invest more. In the three years I’ve been here, we have gained momentum and I continue to push. We are laying the bets down.”

Graham says that LOUD came out of 2013 better than 2012 and “with a head of steam that gave me some confidence that we’re getting greater economic stability” in spite of the lack of confident consumers in the retail markets – LOUD brand retail sales were up, but “didn’t set the world on fire.” On the higher end of the food chain, the number of capital expenditure projects “on the books” for LOUD family product purchases gives him “a lot of confidence.”

Looking at geographically segmented markets, Grahams says, “China is a big driver.” After a regime change, Graham says you could just tell “it’s not what it used to be” and LOUD’s brands are “adjusting strategy to respond to the changed Chinese economy,” though “every one of our brands was materially up in China last year…It speaks well to the strength of our partners. We have very strong partners in China. So, while the overall activity in the market was down, we are taking share and that feels good. [The US market] feels stronger than it’s felt in a long time. It’s not back but it’s a lot better than it was. Europe is finally feeling more stable…”
Overall, says Graham, “I’m more optimistic right now than I have been in a long time. It builds and builds.”