I get a lot of offers to interview folks after they’ve been hired to a new job. Usually, due to time constraints, I take a pass because the press release already has enough information in it for the time being, and I’ve found that other than making a personal connection with someone new, details about future plans are pretty sketchy.
The biggest cliché during one of these “new hires” conversations usually occurs when I redirect the conversation toward product plans for the manufacturer. Asking, “What’s next on the product roadmap for the company?” invariably leads to the response, “We could tell you, but then we’d have to kill you.” To which I politely laugh, but also think to myself, “Why do I even bother?”
Such was the case recently when I had two very cordial, though slightly vague, calls to new employees at familiar industry companies, Toby Severtson at Severtson Screens and Tom Dixon at Soundcast.
I had the chance to meet Toby Severtson, who has agreed to take over as CEO of Severtson Screens from his father Ron, who I’d gotten to know in an earlier interview with him and his other son Kirk.
Toby, who spent 18 years working in IT for Motorola, provided some insight into his motivation to join the family business (taking his father’s vision for the company and running with it, and applying his experience to running his own business), but when it came to specifics about product plans for the company he got cagey.
“There’s a lot of things we’re looking at,” he said. “I really think we can take more of the market. I’m not going to tell you what they are right now, but the things we’re looking at will make us a much more valuable product to our movie theater and home theater businesses.”
To which Ron chimed in with, “What we have planned for the next two years will really surprise everyone.”
It was definitely intriguing, but obviously short on specifics other than this near slip-up from the rookie, Toby: “We’ll be building off of things we’ve already introduced like the first folded screen in the industry that was introduced six months ago—a lot of the stuff the movie screen industry had said was impossible.”
I don’t blame the guys for protecting their competitive interests, but I would have loved to have learned more.
Tom Dixon I had a similar experience just days later when I interviewed former SunbriteTV marketing director Tom Dixon who had moved over to lead the marketing team at outdoor audio maker Soundcast, after the two companies had collaborated on promotions and even exhibited together at CEDIA. I was most interested in the incestuous nature of the move, but I also delved into product planning, which led to the familiar refrain, which I don’t need to quote again, other than to add the words, “2015 will be a good year to have that conversation.”
The upshot was that Dixon viewed his move as a natural migration between similar companies, and that he was ready for a new challenge from another underappreciated brand in a hot category (wireless outdoor audio). Also, Soundcast president Mike Weaver needed a marketing pro to take his brand beyond where he was able to take it as CEO and marketing director for the past year.
“You’ll probably continue to see promotions between Sunbrite and Soundcast,” Dixon said. “But, Soundcast probably has a broader audience to play, so there’s really potential to partner with a diverse group of outdoor lifestyle products and brands out there. The sky’s the limit in a new category. “
Dixon said that digital marketing, digital communications, and diverse channel promotions can be “a great equalizer for small companies” like Soundcast.
“We want to aggressively grow this category and grow this brand into one of the top 10 companies in the CE space,” he said. “I know it sounds bombastic, but our thinking right now is that our only constraint is our small size and as we rapidly develop our sales, we will see broader reach in the marketplace. There’s a huge opportunity.”
Regarding those vague product plans, Dixon noted that Weaver and his team have been working on building the infrastructure to Soundcast to a tier-one company. “They’ve done a lot of end-user research. Soundcast knows the target consumer and exactly what they want to see. What we have right now is a great product line, and you’ll see continuous improvements to it. We’ve got a great engineering crew who are insane about performance, so with good old-fashioned sales and marketing, we will hit our very aggressive business plan and going forward we will have just some fantastic new products.”
So while both of these chats may have been short on the details (and who can blame a new guy for that?), it’ll be exciting to see where these two new additions take their companies in the company year.