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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Off hours: Sennheiser co-chief makes sweet music

Before joining the family business, Sennheiser's co-chief executive says his lowest career moment was launching and later closing down his own business.
Daniel Sennheiser, CEO of Sennheiser, pictured in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Daniel Sennheiser, CEO of Sennheiser, pictured in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

Daniel Sennheiser is the co-chief executive of Sennheiser, the German consumer and professional audio equipment manufacturer founded by his grandfather Fritz Sennheiser in 1945. Before joining the family business in 2008, Mr Sennheiser, 42, served as Procter & Gamble’s director of design and innovation for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He lives in Zurich with his wife and two children.

How do you spend your weekend?

I have a young family, which tends to ground you very well. On the weekend I return to our family home in Zurich and have a normal family life, doing normal things like taking out the trash. I’m a bit surprised that I’m able to switch off so readily. It’s something I’ve learnt to get better at over time. And it is something that small children are very good at helping with.

How did you become a chief executive?

Well, my surname helps, but it really didn’t guarantee anything. It was a very stringent process I had to go through before being appointed. I share the chief executive position with my brother Andreas, and we both had to go through quite an intensive programme of preparation. Both of us have quite a lot of outside experience. I’ve spent 14 years in senior roles with companies such as Ogilvy and Proctor & Gamble. If I hadn’t had a successful career in those companies, I wouldn’t have got to be where I am now. Starting out, I was convinced that I would never work for Sennheiser but then I later came to realise there was something really special in the company. It’s a large responsibility, but it’s great to have such a role in the company.

What is your go-to gadget?

Outside of work, the gadgets I really love using in my free time are my guitars. If I had to choose, it’d be one made by Duesenberg, a smaller German guitar maker. It’s a beautiful instrument.

What was the lowest point of your career?

I remember it well. Directly out of university I started my own business, but quickly realised how hard it was. After four years I felt that it was not large enough to grow, and not small enough to die, so reluctantly I decided to close it down. It was a really, really tough decision to make, to be seen not to have succeeded, especially with my family heritage. In hindsight I understand what happened but did not at the time. It was a very difficult moment but very helpful in the long run, making me a better businessman.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

Know your customer – that’s the most important part. You need to observe the customer in what they’re doing and how they act. You don’t always want to give them what they want because you have to be a step ahead, but really observing them and discovering their fundamental needs is so important, because everything else can change.

What is your most indulgent habit?

I love to travel and fortunately I get to travel a lot with my work. But I also love to travel with my wife and kids, and that’s probably our biggest budget item. Here in the region, we’ve been several times to Oman, which we love. I also love Asia; I find it fascinating to witness the differences between the culture in a place such as Vietnam on the one hand, and then something like the megacities of China and Hong Kong on the other. Aside from that, I love cooking for the family on the weekends. That’s indulgence on a different level.

What do you have on your desk at work?

I don’t actually have a permanent physical desk, as I travel so much. I use a touchdown space wherever I am at any given moment, so I don’t have any physical objects beyond what I’m working with.

What can’t you live without?

Family and music. Everything else can go. I like all types of music, it just depends on what kind of mood I’m in. It can range from a classical or modern classical piece, a bit of jazz, or some hard rock like AC/DC.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

When I’m with my family, it’s the only thing that counts. If I’m not with my family I can’t switch off.

If you could swap jobs with anyone, who would it be and why?

My co-chief executive brother. It took me a long time to get to realise it, but I feel as if I really have the best job in the world.

jeverington@thenational.ae