WHILE acquisitions or takeovers can provide a boost of funds for the company undergoing such an exercise, they could also signal a trimming of creative wings, with respective benefits and fall-outs in the area of product development priorities.
Thus, it was only natural that a recent announcement about THIEL Audio – the famed loudspeaker company founded by Jim Thiel and Kathy Gornik in 1976 – being acquired by a Nashville, Tennessee-based private equity firm created some ripples in the hi-fi industry.
Thiel’s unique phase- and time-coherent loudspeaker design have been a cornerstone of the company’s success. Of course, the speakers weren’t the easiest to drive or match, but the fact that there is a legion of dedicated users across the globe is testimony that Thiel struck the right chord with audiophiles.
When Thiel passed away in 2009, there were some doubts about which way the company would progress without its inspirational designer but the new CS2.7 model was announced last August by then company president Gornik, and there was no indication that a buy-over was in the works. So the announcement did take many by surprise.
The new owners, in their first statement, stressed their commitment to continuing Thiel’s design philosophies, and building on current strengths. Now, in an email interview, new CEO Bill Thomas (pic above) gives us a clearer picture of the acquisition and what the future holds for the company.
Although well-known and established in audiophile circles, THIEL Audio still caters very much to a niche market in the general scheme of things. What potential for expansion would a private equity firm perceive in this, in an environment that is now primarily profit-driven?
I think any healthy company has to make a profit in order to sustain itself and fund the development of new products. That said, our focus will be on maintaining the innovative nature of the company, the quality of the products and expanding to offer premium products in new categories.
The company’s tradition has obviously been tied to one individual – the late Jim Thiel. What has changed since his passing away – has there been any negative fallout, in the context of customer confidence? One assumes these would have been taken into consideration before your acquisition of the company.
We see the tremendous life achievements of Jim Thiel as nothing but positive for our organisation going forward. Our goal and top priority are to acquire like-minded engineering talent that can carry on and evolve Jim’s primary design goals.
We plan to continue on with phase- and time-coherent speaker designs. We plan to modernise our factory and gain an understanding of the market so we can truly be of value to our dealers worldwide.
What is the name of the company that now owns THIEL Audio?
The new organisation does not have a name. We are three individuals who love music and saw tremendous potential in THIEL.
Are there plans to broaden the range to embrace a wider market demography – for example, perhaps reaching out further into the entry-level market, especially with products geared for AV enthusiasts?
We have targeted several product categories but the most critical area of growth for THIEL is to provide high-performance loudspeakers that meet the architectural and design standards of today’s homes.
Many beautiful sound systems are invisible, nestled behind custom grille-work or in walls, ceilings, even floors. We need to have solutions for these customers that deliver the THIEL sound and are covered by our legendary level of service and support.
Are you at liberty to reveal to cost of the acquisition? What is the ownership set-up now?
I am sorry, no – it is a private company.
Although this was not included in your initial statement, the word is that Kathy Gornik is moving on – could you enlightened us on this situation?
We wish Kathy boundless success. No further comment.
Maximising cost efficiencies will obviously be important – do you foresee looking towards Asia to minimise the cost of parts and/or production?
We have a wonderful factory in KY (Kentucky) and a product line that demands the highest standards of quality control. We anticipate maximising the potential of our domestic production capabilities.
Will there be any reassessment of the current product prices? Will any current products be dropped?
We are evaluating all of that now and would be happy to elaborate at a later date.
We are excited about the future of THIEL and very much look forward to meet our partners at CES 2013 (Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas, Jan 8-11).
I would like to encourage everyone to come to the THIEL booth, to meet me and other members of the THIEL team. The location is the same as in past years – Bassano Ballroom 2601 at the Venetian.