Is B&O Losing Itself trying to Gain Market?



Today I heard regional director Lars Kirstein from Bang & Olufsen talk about the current state of the old danish audio and design company as did my co-students at MMD. It was a great experience as I was utterly surprised by some of Lars’ statements. “Design is a commodity” for one. And how about “we’ll soon be well ahead of the market when it comes to software in the audio-industry”.

I’ve always known B&O for it’s design, but it seems that the word has gotten a different importance or interpretation than before. Now, the design is supposed to be functionality within each device, something I think B&O have never been very good at. Recently my friend Søren told me that he didn’t choose another CD-player from B&O because of it’s lacking capability of hooking up with his computer, the internet, mp3’s. The world, I’m about to add.

In my view it’s not part of B&Os history to be technologically advanced in the sense of connectedness. But this is all going to change. Or is it?

B&O has never had success with owning it’s outlets. Lots of different models have been tested but it doesn’t seem to be a part of the value-chain that this proud company is good at. It’s not part of the culture. And my question is: what kind of changes would it take for B&O to become technology-savvy in the mac-way (let’s not forget it was Apple and not B&O who chose to be connected at the right time…)? Can this design-company overcome the challenge of connecting to the internet, design user-friendly software at the pace that Apple, Sony and others are developing? It’s a giant-leap and would take more than a bold vision – it’s a radical cultural change.

But now that I’m at it: B&O is distributing production and engineering to other countries – eg their plant in the Czech Republic and software development to Lithuanian engineers. Danish employees are teaching the new production teams “the way” trying to keep a bit of the culture that’s been build through some eighty-odd years. But when everyone except top-management goes east, who’s going to nurture the heritage in the Wild West?

Where is the DNA (values like “synthesis” and “poetry” was codified in ’98) going to survive? Will B&O be able of keeping it’s heritage alive or is the soul of the company and the corporate brand being washed away as members of the organization are distributed to other geographical sites and the retention of employees changed to shorter and shorter periods of employment contrasting what was before?

As a scandinavian designer I’m a big fan of B&O but until I see that cultural change and the apparent new vision enlived I’ll just pop in the plugs and tap my feet as yet another mp3 flows from my iPod.