Ignacio Martínez, Sivantos CEO: our aim is be world no.1 again


Ignacio Martinez
Ignacio Martínez, new CEO Sivantos Group ©Sivantos

Sivantos Group recently appointed a new CEO in Spaniard, Ignacio Martínez. Backed by his long career over three decades as a frontline director for three international firms, he talked to Audio Infos of his clear-cut, ambitious target: world leadership. Right now, their sales growth is “double” the average in the world marketplace, while important allies such as Amplifon and GAES are set to help keep them on course, as Martínez points out in his analysis. Further strategies? Keep plumping for rechargeable hearing aids − 75% of the outfit’s turnover in the premium range − 46% invested in R&D, the ‘overthe- counter’ law in the USA, and TeleCare or remote assistance.

How did 2016 go for Sivantos and what expectations do you have for the current year?

The past financial year was one of the most successful in our entire history. We oversaw growth in revenue from 835m to 933m euros in 2016. Our target is to keep growing at double the market rate.

What sales percentage will you reach with rechargeables, one of your group’s main stakes?

We have been offering rechargeable hearing aids for a long time (since 2006). It is one of our major strengths. We use two different technologies: galvanic and wireless transmission/inductive (that does not need contact and increases system reliability). We currently offer the first lithium-ion wireless rechargeable hearing aid in the world, Cellion, another milestone in rechargeability. We already generate around 75% of our sales in the premium segment through rechargeable hearing aids (40% of all our premium products are rechargeable).

Do you foresee any fusions in the sector, whether or not they involve Sivantos? Or the purchase of a third party by yourselves?

It is not a fundamental part of our growth strategy but, like the rest of the world, we keep an eye out for opportunities to assess their interest to us.

Do you have any plans to open your own hearing centres as other rival firms have done?

No, our strategy is to be the biggest producer offering the most innovative products and services. It is on this that we are focusing. And that is what our customers most appreciate.

What aims do you have for Europe in market share, sales...? What growth figure is the target in this new phase?

After leaving Siemens in 2015, we are still a company in transition, and we are still reinventing and outlining the way to move towards our future. Our long-term objective is to become (again) number one worldwide: in respect of Europe, we do now lead in several countries, among them France and Spain. To be leader worldwide, our aim is to grow every year more than our competitors. Up to now, everything has gone to plan. How? Enormous investment in R&D (46% up since we left Siemens), technological innovations, great flexibility, great adaptability. We have made great progress in the past two years and we will continue to do so.

And in Spain? It is one of the markets with the lowest rate in fittings in proportion to the population, 47 million inhabitants.

At Sivantos we are proud of our long, successful relationship with GAES. Precisely last year, we gave them our Sivantos Business Award of Excellence in the “Distributor of the Year” category for being the first family firm to sell hearing aids in Spain. They are the dominant leader today in their market, possessing strong leadership principles and great bravery in investment, with over 600 practices, and a strong sense of social responsibility. So, the Spanish market is a key one for us to support, and we value our alliance partnership with GAES highly.

What was the specific focus of Signia at AudiologyNOW!? We refer to Signia because that was the brand present at the trade exhibition.

Signia is our premium product brand that will, sooner or later, completely replace the Siemens brand. Its market reception has been much better than we thought at the outset, and now it is a key to our success. At AudiologyNOW! we showed off our first product with Bluetooth, which is the first and only one to combine this technology with an inductive connection allowing for one hearing aid to link up with another. We have the best product on the market, one that in addition combines the Telecare remote care system that we launched at the last German congress.

What is Sivantos’ position on the US “over-the-counter” bill (a law covering sales of devices in non-specialist outlets)?

According to the latest news, if the bill is passed it will still take two years to be implemented, so it is not all that imminent.

Sivantos has been offering this kind of solution for years in markets such as China and India and we have seen that they are good vehicles for familiarising the public with hearing aids. Nevertheless, an over-the-counter product is not the type of hearing aid that is known in more-developed markets and that requires precisely a high level of service for a correct fitting, and which obviously has a completely different level of efficacy.

What is the current penetration of the audibene hearing aid distribution website in the German and French markets?

With over 800,000 worldwide enquiries per year about hearing aids, audibene has become the biggest point of contact for all questions related to hearing loss and listening devices. Furthermore, audibene gets this offer across in more than ten countries. In Germany, it works with more than 700 of the top hearing specialists. In customer satisfaction it received the TÜV SÜD-award, and this was the first time in Germany that professionals from the hearing sector were given this. It was launched in France in the summer of 2016 and has grown steadily since then. The French team comprises 16 agents now for sales to hearing care professionals working with 150 audiologist associates nationwide. We are expecting stronger growth in this partnership network in line with increased demand over the coming months.

Sivantos Group—with its brand Signia—is also a leader in the Italian market. How many people does it employ in that country and how is its distribution network organised? What are its expectations and aims in terms of developing Italy, and what awaits us in the future?

In Italy, we founded a subsidiary of Sivantos in 2009. The market is divided into two. The retail side is headed up by Amplifon with around 39% of the market share, and by small chains. Their presence is at 54% of the market. The rest is made up by independents, and that for us is the real “world to conquer”, since the development of Sivantos Italia historically has been more linked to Amplifon than to the independents.

We focused on the independents some three years ago through Audio Service, since we had an exclusive contract with Amplifon in Siemens.

We have a clear road map with clear priorities: we are building an organisational structure capable of offering a high standard of service for the independents while, at the same time, preserving and assuring cooperation with Amplifon, a leader in the sector. Along this route, we of course have more brands besides Signia, and in Italy we also sell Rexton through another long-term business partner, Eurosonit.

José Luis Fernández, Audio Infos Spain