Changes at B&W/Classe

Written by Bill Leebens

[This is another occasion upon which press-releases cannot be relied, because there aren’t any. I’ll piece together the timeline to the best of my ability, and link to other reports online, such as there are.—Ed.]

Observers of the audio biz may recall that industry-leading loudspeaker manufacturers Bowers & Wilkins were sold last year to a mysterious Silicon Valley entity called EVA Automation, of which little was known. The best coverage of the sale was by Engadget, which explained that EVA was owned by Gideon Yu, former CFO of Facebook and a partial owner of the San Francisco 49ers . EVA Automation appeared to be a 40-person startup minnow which had never released a product, swallowing the 1,100-employee whale, B&W.

The one statement made by Yu regarding the purchase does almost nothing to explain the reasoning for the purchase, or the company’s possible future direction. According to Yu, longtime Chairman and majority owner of B&W Joe Atkins would remain with the new entity to help guide it. Despite Yu’s statement  that “Joe Atkins has graciously agreed to remain the CEO of our combined company, while I will be our Executive Chairman. There are very few leaders in home A/V as experienced, respected and successful as Joe, and I look forward to partnering with and learning from him…and all of you”—-according to company and industry insiders, Atkins departed within a few months of the deal’s close, and indications are that the departure was less than amicable.

Once again, the company did not issue a statement regarding the departure. I’ve had to rely on statements from folks close to the events who are unwilling to be be attributed.

Along with the B&W line of speakers, the B&W Group distributes Rotel in much of the world. Despite not owning Rotel outright, the relationship is a close one. The new company is headquartered in Silicon Valley as Bowers & Wilkins.

Longtime B&W Group North America President Doug Henderson was recently dismissed, as reported in industry news-site Strata-Gee.  The company issued a remarkably uninformative statement informing dealers of Henderson’s departure.

B&W Group also owns electronics manufacturer Classe’. Strata-Gee  has stated that employees were recently notified that Classe’ is shutting down—but again, none are willing to provide attribution in print, and there is no formal statement from B&W, other than a pat statement, “Thank you for your inquiry. It is Bowers & Wilkins policy not to comment on rumors or speculation.”

So: what’s the direction and intent of B&W in the future? This listing of job openings makes it sound like a very different company from the stalwart loudspeaker company. As one former B&W exec recently put it, “What that means for the future only time will tell.”

The latest bit of non-news came in the form of a letter to Classe’ dealers which creates more questions than it answers. This was reported, once again, by Ted Green at Strata-Gee.

Please note: vagueness and lack of attribution are anathema to me—but at this point I can provide nothing better than what’s been presented here. There will be more to follow in the future, I’m sure.

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