The ending of the joint venture between Sennheiser and William Demant, which will see the Sennheiser unified communications business transition to William Demant on January 1 2020, means a much more aggressive growth strategy, and new VP Jim Fairweather said that planning has already begun, which includes a more focused channel strategy.
Sennheiser Communications has named Jim Fairweather as its new vice president of sales and marketing – Enterprise Solutions Americas. Fairweather, a veteran executive with over 20 years experience in the unified communications area, takes the helm in the Americas as Sennheiser prepares to split the existing company in two, with the commercial headset business going to the large Danish holding company William Demant Holdings. The split doesn’t take place until January 1 2020, but Fairweather said that changes within the existing company will begin immediately in 2019. He also said these changes will be significant, and will involve significant alterations – and improvements – to channel policies.
For the last 15 years, Sennheiser Communications has been operated as a joint venture between Sennheiser and William Demant. In September, the two companies agreed to end the joint venture, with the assets devolving to the two separate companies as of January 1, 2020.
“Fifty per cent of the Sennheiser Communications joint venture will go over to William Demant,” Sennheiser said. “Sennheiser gets the microphone business, and the music side – the consumer side of the audio business. The music piece is very complementary to their core microphone business. Enterprise Solutions and Gaming – including sales, marketing and operations – goes to William Demant.”
While the commercial market products will now be part of William Demant rather than Sennheiser, the Sennheiser brand name will be retained for the products. The name of the company that has been called Sennheiser Communications will change – but the brand of the product remains Sennheiser.
Fairweather’s appointment is completely independent of the change in company structure.
“In fact, in the final stages of the interview process I flew over to Denmark to meet with the principals of the company, knowing nothing of the change, and the next day the press release came out,” he said. “They explained that they had been unable to make mention of this previously, and I said that had I known, it would have had a very positive impact on my decision.”
Fairweather believes strongly that William Demant will be able to grow the Sennheiser UC business – particularly in North America – much more effectively than had been possible under the joint venture. Sennheiser is one of three large UC firms with a strong emphasis on headsets, but Jabra and Plantronics are the market leaders.
“I think that William Demant’s aggressive position will make a big impact on the business,” he said. “Sennheiser has done well in the Pro/Audio and Pro/AV markets – not as well in UC. Sennheiser is still privately held, and the family owns 100 per cent of the business. It is still a family-run business and there is no indication that will change, ever. The Unified Communication space is very competitive. You need to be aggressive and invest, especially in the Americas.”
William Demant is not only a public company, but one that Fairweather said has a very different corporate culture from Sennheiser, and which is committed to aggressive expansion.
“William Demant is a two and a half billion dollar publicly traded company, based in Copenhagen and Somerset N.J,” Fairweather stated. “They have multiple companies in the hearing aid space. The commonality between that and the Sennheiser business is sound, and the patents they own can be built into the headsets. Some already have been as a result of the joint venture.”
The split does not take effect for a year, and it is business as usual until then, but Fairweather said that the process of change is already beginning, so that when the split becomes official, absolutely everything will be ready to go out of the gate.
“We are in the process of a full transition to William Demant,” he indicated. “You will see a positive impact to the Demant ownership. We will start to do things differently. By 2020, when the split takes place, the whole transition will be done and the new programs will already be in place. There will still be a very strong partnership between Sennheiser and William Demant, but we can’t say if it will be an OEM or reseller relationship at this point. We can say that mutual customers will see no disruption.”
Fairweather said that significant change will happen long before that, however.
“A lot of things will happen in Q1 in 2019,” he said. I will be able to go into detail next quarter about the changes I am making. The focus on and alignment with partners in both the U.S. and Canada will be immediately improved effective January 1 2019. I know how I’m going to do it – I just can’t disclose it yet – but there will be a lot of focus on improving the channel.”
Fairweather’s background includes stints at Hewlett Packard, where he was VP of Worldwide Sales between January 2010 and August 2012, Vidyo, PictureTel, Yamaha, MCI WorldCom, and Honeywell. His longest tenure was at Polycom, where he was VP of North American Sales between September 2001 and December 2009.