by Jeremy J. Glowacki
Don’t expect any drastic changes after Control4’s leadership moves last week. According to the company’s co-founder and new chairman and chief strategy officer, Will West, hiring veteran business and technology executive Martin Plaehn was a proactive step meant to prepare the company for the next three to four years in the rapidly changing consumer electronics market.
Last week, Control4 announced that Plaehn, the former senior VP of product and service development at RealNetworks had been hired to succeed West as president and CEO, so West could take on a more strategic and “brand evangelist” role. The move appeared fairly straightforward, but I still wanted to chat with West directly to find out more about the decision.
In our 15-minute phone conversation, West emphasized that this executive change, which had been in the works for at least six months, would not be a strategic “right turn” for the company in any way. Rather, it would help take a manufacturer that has been experiencing 30-percent growth for several years toward “much bigger and better things in the future.”
The connected home space is changing dramatically, West noted, and although a lot of things in the industry are changing for the worse, he believes that Control4 has proven that there’s a “real interest, need, and appetite” from consumers “for things that make the connected home work together.”
“Control4 continues to grow at some really strong double-digit rates, and we expect to continue to do that,” West explained. “We don’t want to wait until we have to look back and say, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it have been nice if we had adjusted our team and brought on more firepower two years ago?’ We want to look ahead and say, ‘How can we have the most powerful team?’”
So why has Control4 been so successful? West says that his “canned answer” is that the company brought to market the right products at the right time through the right channel. “While it sounds a little bit trite, it’s true,” he said. “What scares me is that the landscape is changing underneath our feet. It feels like moving sands that we’re standing on. Even though we’ve been really fortunate and growing rapidly, we’re not going to be resting on laurels because we think that in two to three years, the market’s going to be even more dramatically different. Maybe that’s part of what keeps us on top of our game, because we keep a healthy paranoia about where things are going and we know we have to and can get a whole lot better and Martin is going to make sure that we’re driving a best-in-class consumer and dealer experience. He’s got sort of a maniacal focus on that.”
Looking at that future, West said that Control4 will continue to “leverage all of the tools” that consumers have and “make them work together in a way that makes the most sense.” For example, he predicts that iPad-type devices that started out costing $800 will, in the next few years, cost a lot less and thus be owned by a lot more consumers.
“Consumers will just have devices and tools that are incredibly powerful,” he explained. “It’s not our job to build all of those things; it’s our job to make sure that the media player that replaces your Blu-ray player works well with not only the Vizio tablet device, running on Android, but it also works well with your security system and temperature control system and that all of these things work well together so when you arm your security system, your home goes to energy management mode and everything else shuts off appropriately. Our job is put the wrapper around it all and make it all work together. That’s kind of hard to do, but nobody does it better than Control4, and my job along with Martin’s is to make sure that we’re still doing it better when the market is much much bigger three or four years from now.”
West says that his passion for Control4 is unwavering, but that he sees a stronger future with the addition of more talent at the executive level. “My desire to be here and direct the vision and work with the manufacturing team…is unabated, but I know that we can bring in more talent, and Martin Plaehn is an all-star. He is a super-smart guy with deep operational experience. He is a highly technical; he’s an engineer by training. He has strong licensing experience. He understands the CE community really well. He basically fills out our team for what we need for the next order of magnitude of growth.”
According to West, Plaehn is “very metrics-driven” whose only real challenge as president and CEO of Control4 will be learning all about his new brand’s technology “ecosystem” in a short amount of time.
“He’s going to have to drink from a fire hose, because we have to do everything,” West said. “We have to integrate with security and lighting and temperature and audio and video and ultimately provide a good experience for the consumer. We have to do it all and do it well. And to make sure we do all of this well, we have to be pretty expert in all of these different fields and channels. And there’s just a lot to learn in that process. But he’s a brilliant guy, and I have no qualms at all about his ability to do that and absorb it and use that information to turn our products into better products and our company into a better company.”
Soon, Plaehn is going to spend a week going through the same training that Control4 dealers go through, helping him to better understand not only the products that his company makes, but how they’re used, installed, and what dealers go through.
“Creating a dealer a good dealer experience and understanding the dealer experience is part and parcel of ultimately creating a good experience for the market and the consumers,” West added. “It’s just that kind of thing that’s going to be his biggest challenge. Getting up to speed on all there is to learn. But again, with his background and intellect, he will do that very smoothly.”