Lectrosonics Celebrates 40 Years

Apr 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Tom Kenny

COMMITMENT TO USERS KEEPS WIRELESS MANUFACTURER CHURNING

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Final assembly on the floor, by hand

Final assembly on the floor, by hand

It’s late morning in Rancho Rio, N.M., just outside of Albuquerque, and I’m walking across a parking lot between large industrial buildings with Karl Winkler, director of business development at Lectrosonics. We’ve done the office tour, the parts and testing, and assembly and Faraday cages, and now we’re headed for the machine shop. A man in his mid-40s approaches us, twisting something tiny in his fingers. An engineer.

“Check it out, Karl,” he says, reaching down to place the small black plastic clip against the side of a beltpack transmitter, fixing a wire into place. “I think this will work.” Winkler plays with the unit for a second, then concurs, “Nice job!” The engineer heads toward the offices to get sign-off, and Winkler and I proceed to the machine shop. “He just made that this morning,” Winkler explains. “Designed the piece, created the mold, shot in the plastic. We had received a couple reports from customers that the antenna was hanging just a little loose and getting in the way. So that will be part of the product from now on and we’ll update the units in the field. That’s the advantage of being a company that has the engineer and the shop in one place. We can make a change in a day.” We head toward the factory.

“Do you know what the definition of a machine shop is?” he asks as he opens a side door. “It’s a shop that has machines that can make the machines. Think about that!” We step inside, and it’s immense and busy. Despite the hum and whir of machinery from every corner of the 13,500 square feet, it’s not that loud. We put on safety glasses and start at the raw aluminum and metal sheets, before moving on to the laser-cutting station.

*****

At the 2011 Winter NAMM show, Lectrosonics kicked off its 40th-anniversary celebration with the launch of Quadra, a digital wireless monitor system that puts four channels of 24-bit/48k under a musician’s control. It was a hit with journalists, and when it ships late spring, the company will get a good idea of where it stands in an all-new venture. It’s a product that is on the periphery of the core business while opening up new markets.

Lectrosonics did the same with wireless in 1975, moving the company off the fixed-lectern Voice Projector and eventually finding a dominant spot in the TV and film production industry; Lectrosonics did it again with auto-mixers and the Modular Audio Processor in the early ’90s, taking its DSP efforts and moving into the contracting market. And now, though the company has made inroads into live sound with transmitters and receivers, it is now headed to the stage with a quality product.

“During my final interview with the company, in 1988, I was told that there are three rules of business at Lectrosonics,” recalls Gordon Moore, VP of sales. “The first is that we make the best product we know how to make, and we sell it at a price that allows us to profit as a company without borrowing. The second is that we don’t do business with the government, namely Defense. And rule Number Three is that we have fun. I’ll be honest, when I heard this, I thought, ‘Yeah, right.’ But after six weeks, the president popped his head in my office, and asked, ‘Are you having fun?’ And after 22 years of being here, I have to say, those are still my three guiding points.”

The physical scope of Lectrosonics today, from the size of the shop and staff to the number of units shipped, is a far cry from the Albuquerque garage where it was founded in 1971 by Thomas Gilmer and Paul Auxter, both formerly with Singer-Friden. But the core business values have not changed. They are privately held and carry no debt. No acquisitions or mergers, though they have certainly been wooed. Steady profits, with some years better than others. Everything—and we mean everything—is made locally. There is an overwhelming commitment to employees and the community they live in. And there’s a focus on quality and customer service that you rarely find today. It’s the kind of company that politicians should be lining up in front of for photo ops, though the management team would likely balk. It’s just not their style.

“When we talk about our company, we often talk in terms of money, business and customer relations,” says president Larry Fisher. “But the truth is, it’s just the right way to do it. The economics align with the way we like to do things around here. The people here have a lot of pride in the products they make, and the fact that it is also good business with customers is kind of the icing on the cake.”






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