L-Acoustics co-CEOs talk 40th anniversary, the art of leadership, and the future

In a world exclusive interview, L-Acoustics co-CEOs Laurent Vaissié and Hervé Guillaume sit down together for their first joint interview to reflect on the company’s 40th anniversary, the art of leading the business as a duo, and the trends shaping the future of pro audio…

You can listen to this interview here or read in full below. 

“It’s been quite a journey,” smiles Laurent Vaissié as he settles into a chair in his office at the L-Acoustics Los Angeles headquarters. The day is just starting, and bright sunlight is already pouring through the window behind him. He is flanked by fellow L-Acoustics co-CEO Hervé Guillaume, who has flown in from the company’s Paris HQ to join him for our conversation about, among other things, the 40th anniversary of the business. “I tried to convince him to move to Paris, but when you live in California you don’t really want to move,” he laughs.

The pair, who are affable and possessed of a laid-back disposition not always evident in senior executive level interviews, share a unique relationship. Co-CEO is a seldom seen title in most industries – in pro audio circles it’s practically unheard of. In this case, however, it has flourished into a complementary partnership that has steered the company into an era of significant development and expansion, which we will discuss in due course.

While this duo represents the first co-CEO manifestation in the company’s history, the concept of the joint role they occupy today can be traced back to 1984 when Christian Heil founded the company. As Guillaume explains, Heil was always convinced that a collaborative approach would make for a far more compelling proposition than a solo vision of how to grow the company.

“I started in 1994 as an intern when there were less than 10 people at the company,” he says, recalling his introduction to L-Acoustics. “I was doing financial reporting and managing the company cash flow. We also set up L-Acoustics in the US that year and Christian asked if I was open to going to America to teach the one-man team there how to manufacture the V-DOSC systems. So I went down to the shop and assembled cabinets for two or three months, and then flew to America to assemble the first V-DOSC system there.

We thought two people working together was far stronger than two individuals. Hervé Guillaume

“I eventually joined the company after my studies as a financial manager and after a couple of years I was promoted to managing director. I worked together with Christian, sharing the same office for around 14 years. That was where the concept of working together as a duo came to life. We thought two people working together was far stronger than two individuals. Christian was more in charge of inventing new concepts, and I was in charge of making them work and developing them.”

This fusing together of skills and areas of expertise resides very much at the heart of Guillaume and Vaissié’s relationship. Each brings distinct yet complementary experience to the table.

“My background is slightly different,” says Vaissié. “I joined in 2011 and my experience is in engineering. At first I was surprised when L-Acoustics reached out. They explained that they were looking for someone who was culturally a good fit for L-Acoustics – someone who understood technology but understood business as well. I started in R&D and then moved to product management, marketing and sales. I’ve always been really passionate about music and technology, so I was intrigued.

“The pivotal moment for me was meeting L-Acoustics - that moment changed my career and my life. I could feel there was a real sense of innovation and coolness. Everybody was really welcoming, curious and open-minded. I joined to manage the North America team and I held this role working closely with Hervé until 2018 when Christian and Hervé asked me to take on more of a global role.”

Being based either side of the Atlantic and with clearly defined competencies, Vaissié and Guillaume inevitably have areas of the business which they can largely run in silos. But how does the relationship work when significant, company-wide decisions need to be made?

“We both have our areas of expertise, but we really make decisions together,” Vaissié explains. “We work on big strategic topics together along with the executive committee and board of directors. But when running a company like L-Acoustics, that is experiencing rapid growth and has a global footprint, thinking that one person can do it all seems quite challenging. It makes us wonder why more companies aren’t implementing dual leadership like this.

“My focus and area of expertise is more on the business side, more outward,” he continues. “So, things like business strategy, communication, sales, marketing, applications, product management, is what I oversee more directly. Hervé oversees the group structure, as well as the manufacturing and R&D and industrial operations, and also HR, finance and IT. But for any topics that can affect multiple divisions, the structure of the company, we bounce ideas off each other. That could be, for example, key hires or defining the objectives of the company.”

We wonder why more companies aren’t implementing dual leadership like this. Laurent Vaissié

On why more companies haven’t adopted a similar approach, he ponders: “You need to have good chemistry and it can take time to get to know each other and trust each other, so that’s maybe why more companies are not doing it. It’s also easier to make decisions by yourself, but the way L-Acoustics has always operated, it’s never been just one person’s mission. It’s always been a group. There has always been a collective decision-making culture at L-Acoustics and Christian instilled that from the start.”

“Christian didn’t want to be seen as the only one to lead the company – he wanted L-Acoustics to be seen as the company that leads the market,” Guillaume adds.

Our conversation inevitably turns to the 40th anniversary of L-Acoustics. With such a milestone upon them, they are naturally in a reflective mood, considering the most pivotal moments of the past four decades that have positioned them at the forefront of the pro audio market, as well as how they can build and expand upon all that has come before. Not only in terms of L-Acoustics itself, but the industry as a whole.

“Christian started the company in a farm in France 40 years ago,” says Vaissié. “Today we are 850 employees. Looking back, it’s been a journey of growth and innovation based on performance and focused on people. If we look at some of the key milestones from a product and innovation standpoint it’s hard to overstate the impact that V-DOSC had on the industry. The introduction of the modern line array and the approach that Christian took to create a truly full range coherent line source changed the industry forever.

“That triggered a lot of innovation at L-Acoustics, because with that technology came the need to be able to model sound propagation and sound coverage accurately, which led us to introduce Soundvision, first 3D, real-time modelling software. This, in turn, led to another major milestone: establishing the first standard system that included not just loudspeakers, but electronics as well.

“Today, everyone takes this for granted, but at the time it was quite an evolution and it allowed us to establish a global network of companies that met the same standard of training, equipment and technical skills. And that network today is one of our biggest strengths.”

As for more recent defining achievements, Vaissié points toward the introduction of L-ISA and the recently launched L Series – two subjects we revisit in greater depth later in our conversation.

“L-ISA was a major milestone for us, as we first perfected the line source and the speaker itself, then the system configuration, and with L-ISA we connected what you hear with what you see, and connected the performers with the audience.

“The L Series, launched last year, is also a major milestone as it is creating the same kind of paradigm shift we saw with V-DOSC in terms of size and efficiency and ease of deployment. We are very excited about that.”

“On the operational side, we also founded L-Acoustics in Singapore in 2019 and before the end of this year we will hire our 1,000th employee,” Guillaume notes. “It really has been quite a journey!”

One of the most significant evolutions L-Acoustics has experienced on the journey of which Guillaume speaks has been its diversification from a brand that operated almost exclusively in the touring market into all manner of different sectors. This diversification is mirrored across the industry in general, with areas such as corporate and hospitality installs, as well as high-end residential integration becoming major verticals over the past two decades. L-Acoustics, however, has made – and continues to make – significant strides into these spaces. And as Vaissié elaborates, the company’s focus on these markets is set to intensify over the coming months and years.

The industry is working to improve sustainability of live events. This is a big demand from the public. Hervé Guillaume

“The touring market is in our DNA and remains one of our key focuses,” he is keen to reiterate. “And over the past 10-15 years the company has gone through quite a diversification into other markets, so we went from touring representing maybe 80% of our business, to fixed installation representing as much as 50% of our business in the Americas. We see this focus continuing in the next decade. We have added some expertise in each of the key vertical markets, from house of worship to hospitality, which is an area that is growing, as there is more attention today on the quality of audio and the experience. Theatres and corporate activities are also a big focus, as well as home and yachts, which is a brand new market for us. We see a lot of potential in this vertical.

“Hospitality is one area where we see tremendous growth potential,” he continues. “More attention is being given to the audio experience in those scenarios. House of worship is interesting as well, as we have a very strong presence already in the US and Southeast Asia. What’s interesting here is that we are seeing a shift towards L-ISA and more immersive technologies - that is where the growth potential is. There is strong adoption in that market for creating a sense of intimacy with the sermon, which is a key development for us.”

So, what is the appeal of L-ISA to the house of worship market, given the relatively traditional application of sound reinforcement in this field compared to, say, hospitality or live entertainment events?

“The main impact is the ability to connect,” Vaissié explains. “When you have the pastor who is preaching to the congregation, the ability to connect his voice with his position on stage, as opposed to having sound coming from the left or the right of the stage, gives a sense of intimacy and closeness, which is important in this environment. L-ISA also increases intelligibility.

“There is also another impact we’ve heard from different congregations, which is the fact that L-ISA, with shorter arrays placed across the stage, opens up sightlines. You have a clean, wider view of what’s happening onstage. That’s true in theatre as well. You can really marry the visuals and the sound.”

With the increasing adoption of immersive audio technologies showing no sign of slowing, the potential for growth in this market is clear for all to see. Where five years ago immersive audio in live events felt like something of a novelty, today entire venues and events are being constructed around the very concept.

Shows like ABBA Voyage, the London-based immersive show that features live performances from digital ABBA avatars, have struck an unprecedented chord with fans, almost certainly paving the way for similar spectacles in the future. Meanwhile, the Sphere venue in Las Vegas has been conceived and constructed with immersive technology at its core, prompting speculation around not if, but where and when, the next Sphere is likely to appear.

All of this, says Guillaume, suggests that immersive audio will no longer be an afterthought, but an essential pillar in the live experience.

The installation market and the appetite for a premium audio solutions is increasing. Laurent Vaissié

“I believe that this type of complex, such as Sphere, where everything is taken into consideration from day one, before the room is built, will develop over time,” he asserts. “And the focus will be as much on audio as the visuals. There will be more and more rooms already equipped with good systems for everything as a fixed installation. This will also reduce the quantity of systems that travel all over the world for touring.”

“We have seen L-ISA adoption in the major high-profile residencies where artists want to elevate the production level as budgets are a little higher and there is time to create a bespoke show,” Vaissié adds. “We have seen audio become more of a creative tool and that represents a new era for audio where it’s not only about getting the message heard and intelligible, but the ability to give a new canvas to creators. It remains a slow adoption, but any disruptive technology is expected to take time.

“But it’s not only in concerts; it’s also in theatres. On Broadway we’ve seen David Byrne’s Here Lies Love and The Outsiders by Cody Spencer, both nominated for Tony awards’ best sound design this year, using L-ISA technology and that is a game changer for sound designers.”

Outside of the immersive world, our focus shifts towards the wider trends sculpting the pro audio landscape, particularly post-pandemic.

“The first trend is the return of live music,” says Guillaume. “After Covid, artists and the public wanted to live those experiences again together, so that market has more than doubled since the pandemic. The other big trend is the wish to bring more sustainability to events. Having venues already equipped so artists can tour them without carrying their own systems all over the planet will certainly be key. As it will be key for festivals. The industry is working very hard to improve the sustainability of live events, as this is a big demand from the public.”

“We have been really surprised by the strength of the touring market,” Vaissié reinforces. “The way people and the industry have responded has been amazing. The installation market and the appetite of clients for a premium audio solution is increasing. The market is moving toward a more premium solution and clients that maybe five or 10 years ago would not have considered L-Acoustics are now asking specifically about the quality of the audio experience.”

As for the biggest challenges facing both L-Acoustics and the industry in general, these largely lie, unsurprisingly, in the fallout of the pandemic.

“With the rebound of touring we’ve seen an increase in ticket pricing,” Guillaume states. “We don’t see a stop to this increase, and it could lead to a point where the public will not be able to come to shows. I think the industry has to be cautious about not going too far in that direction.

“During the pandemic we also went through the supply chain issue. That has improved since then, but it remains fragile, and we are paying a lot of attention on ramping up our production. We need to find the right people to do that, and it takes a lot more resources than before the pandemic.”

“Managing growth rate is a challenge from a supply chain viewpoint,” says Vaissié. “Also, people and education – our industry as a whole has a shortage of talent, so we are spending a lot of time and effort on developing educational resources, things like education platforms, online training, authorised training centres. Education is a big focus for us.

“We also just had the dawn of the L Series. There will be more products coming into this line and we are really excited by the adoption of the product, which is very encouraging for the future in terms of noise pollution, directivity, pure sound quality, and sustainability in terms of packaging and truck weight, and the time it takes to get the system up and down.”

As hectic schedules draw our time together to a close, we bid our farewells and speak loosely about the 40th anniversary celebrations that await over the coming weeks and months. But before we take our leave, there’s just enough time for Vaissié to highlight one of the big opportunities he sees on the horizon.

“I would just like to mention the type of services that we see as a big opportunity for us,” he signs off. “We have seen huge evolution from a software standpoint, which allows us to evolve what we do in terms of services and applications in the cloud. One example is what we are doing with our AI-powered translation services with Mixhalo, which we are starting to offer to corporate clients. This is potentially very disruptive in terms of technology combining with loudspeakers in order to provide individual experiences in different languages for different participants. That is the type of application we think will create even more opportunities for our clients.”

This disruptive approach has been largely responsible for the market-leading position L-Acoustics has enjoyed for the past 40 years. On the strength of what we’ve heard today, the next 40 look set to follow suit.