Thriving in tough times
In February this year, Gilad Tiefenbrun, Managing Director of Linn Products, visited the Business School to share his experiences leading Scotland’s most celebrated luxury brand.
In addition to the talk by Gilad, the event included a live performance by Maeve O’Boyle, a rising star on the Linn Records label. More than 100 alumni and friends of the Business School were in attendance to hear Gilad’s refreshingly honest reflections on the highs and lows Linn has experienced over the past decade, and the technological changes that have shaped the company’s direction. The high end hi-fi manufacturer struggled early on in the recent recession, and as in previous downturns, it was investment in R&D and product innovation that reinvigorated the company. In particular, the development of Digital Stream (DS) network music players based on open source software protocols gave Linn a major boost, placing the company at the cutting edge of the ‘OpenHome’ revolution.
Linn Products was established in 1972 by Ivor Tiefenbrun MBE, to satisfy his personal desire to own the perfect hi-fi. The company’s guiding principle is that “the source of the music is the most important component of the hi-fi chain”. The company continues to engineer and hand-build high-end stereo equipment at its factory near Glasgow. Their music and home cinema systems are popular among music industry insiders, royalty, and serious music lovers.
Ivor’s son, Gilad Tiefenbrun, took over as Managing Director in 2009, while Ivor continues to act as Executive Chairman. After redundancies and a very difficult trading year in 2007, the company is now thriving again. The secret to Linn’s current success, according to Gilad, is innovation in its product range. While the company was at first reluctant to embrace CDs back in the 1980s, citing concerns over the sound quality of the Sony/Philips format, Linn is now a leader in digital sound technology. They produce systems designed for digital streaming of music around the home and offer their own ‘Studio Master’ quality digital downloads of music recorded by the company’s own record label sold directly to the consumer through linnrecords.com.
During his talk at the Business School in February, Gilad emphasised diversification as one key to success in tough times, although he also noted that some attempts at diversification are more successful than others. Linn Records was formed in 1983, and has won a string of awards and accolades, including Gramophone’s Label of the Year 2010. The label now boasts a catalogue of over 300 titles and an artist roster including jazz legend Claire Martin, who was awarded the OBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours, and the Dunedin Consort, the celebrated baroque music ensemble directed by John Butt, the Gardiner Professor of Music at the University of Glasgow. In contrast, a high profile distribution contract with German television manufacturer Loewe is now dissolved. To develop a strategy that works, understanding where the market is going to be in future, and fully understanding your customer base and how it will embrace this future, are essential. Early on in Gilad’s time at the helm of Linn, he invested a great deal of time in understanding the Linn customer and where s/he was headed, an investment that is now paying off handsomely.
As a follow-up to the successful alumni event, a group of 20 current MBA students was invited to visit Linn’s Eaglesham site in June 2011 to experience all aspects of Linn’s world class manufacturing process. Professor Iain Docherty, convener of Glasgow’s MBA programme, said: “We are immensely grateful to Linn for hosting a visit giving our students real insight into how an organisation achieves success at the highest level. We value our industrial links with companies such as Linn immensely, since these collaborations enable our students to develop a real understanding of what works and what doesn’t to the benefit of their own future careers.”