Name: Jim Mack
Company: Ashly Audio
Overtime: Spending his early years in MI retail, Mack learned to be a better rep and then manufacturer, by understanding the programs and policies that helped and hindered the sales channels.
SCN: Would you say your audio industry career predates your first job in the industry working as a manufacturers’ rep?
Jim Mack: Definitely. One of my earliest jobs out of high school was working at Playback Electronics, a consumer audio chain in the Midwest. I started on the sales floor, was an assistant manager after about six months, and ended up as a store manager. I did a couple of other stops in consumer and pro AV retail, before moving over to the pro audio side. I had a small regional sound company, which I ran out of the pro audio department of an MI dealer in Chicago. All of that set the stage for moving into the rep side with Sound Marketing, and then to the manufacturing with Alesis.
SCN: How did your early professional experiences lead you to the top of the ranks at PreSonus? What were some of the most valuable lessons along the way?
JM: I really believe the years I spent in retail made me a better manufacturers’ rep because I knew firsthand what was important to the retailer, and how I could help them be more effective with the brands I represented. The combination of the retail and rep experiences helped me to be more effective inside the manufacturing operations because I knew what type of programs or policies helped or hindered the reps’ ability to do their job.
But the most valuable lessons came from the experiences at Alesis, seeing a company surge to the top of the industry and still manage to fail; at TEAC, seeing the attention to process and quality that many Japanese companies possess; and then at Sanewave, having the opportunity to work inside the product development engines of some of the top companies in the industry. The successes, and maybe more importantly, the failures I experienced were all useful in preparing me for the challenges at PreSonus and beyond.
SCN: Your tenure at PreSonus was marked with some impressive transformation and growth. What do you attribute this success to the most?
JM: Before I arrived, PreSonus had already established a reputation for being on the bleeding edge of technology in the recording space, and they had taken the initial steps to create their own software platform and enter the live sound area with digital mixers. They were extremely innovative and creative, but they lacked many of the basic best practices that would allow the company to grow and scale to be a much larger company. Overall product quality and consistency were very poor; the handoff from engineering to production was disjointed and lacked key tests and verifications. R&D lacked focus, and the overall branding was weak.
The problem was that the existing management team had mostly grown with the company and had only seen it through the limited perspective of a small company. The key was building the middle and senior management teams with people who had a broad range of experience at much larger companies. But we didn’t throw out all the old team and replace them with new people. We were able to augment the passionate people who were there and who had built the company to that point with the experience of the new people. There were some minor struggles and hurdles, but overall, the group melded together extremely well. I take credit for building the team, but the team gets the credit for the great success we achieved.
SCN: You have credited Ashly’s brand and people as contributing to the company’s achievements. How are you planning to add to Ashly’s existing strengths while maintaining the current culture?
JM: In many ways, the situation at Ashly is very similar to what I encountered when I arrived at PreSonus. Both companies have a long-established team with decades of experience that is very capable and passionate about the brand. In the case of Ashly, where the direct customers are integrators and contractors who live and die by the product reliability and support they get from a supplier, the culture is built on supplying bulletproof products and exceptional support that does not let a single problem fall through the cracks. This provides a great platform to now take the company in new directions for growth. The challenge, or “formula” then, is very similar. We need to add people with more broad experience to augment the core that is there now. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Take the strong platform that the current team has created, and augment that with people who know how to take it to the next level and beyond.
SCN: What’s your long-term vision for Ashly, and how will your unique set of experiences guide the direction?
JM: Ashly presents a great platform to grow the brand in so many directions. We are in the middle of so many exciting and emerging market segments. Changes in work, retail, entertainment, hospitality, and education environments present so many opportunities to provide new, innovative solutions that not only add value for the end users, but also make the integrators more efficient and effective. Ashly was an early advocate of networked audio solutions and will continue to develop solid, reliable, and innovative products for these markets.
If anything, Ashly is currently too narrow, and over my career, I have seen so many areas where this company can not only compete but also take a leading role. I’ll use my experience to dramatically widen our view. We intend to broaden the scope of products we offer and extend our reach into related markets like live sound, MI, transportation, and corporate AV.
SCN: As a longtime music industry executive, what have you observed as the most significant factors driving innovation and triumphing over external challenges?
JM: I have often said that innovation in the music industry is so fertile because our target customers demand new innovative tools that allow them to be more creative. When an artist has a hit record, they don’t try to duplicate that, they strive to eclipse it. The new products we provide allow them to explore new creative directions, and they are always giving us new ideas for products that would enhance their creativity.
There are always external challenges to overcome in the world economy, increased competition, market shifts, etc., but most companies compound the difficulty by creating their own obstacles and hurdles. If you can limit that, and focus on providing solid solutions for your specific target customers, taking full advantage of their hunger for new tools, you can always win. It always comes down to solid planning and execution.
SCN: What technological device has had the most impact on your personal way of life?
JM: Is it possible that there could be any other answer than the smartphone? First, I am now accessible at any time, and any place in the world. I actually remember a time before cellphones when there was such a thing as being “off the grid.” That’s gone forever. I also have 24/7-access to other people, information, and data. It has replaced maps, cameras, printed airplane tickets, newspapers, even crossword puzzles. I have three teenage daughters, so it is often the only way to communicate with them as well.