Global expansion

The SAE Group will relocate its global headquarters from Australia to the UK this month.
Misner pictured at Studios 301 in 2006.
Misner pictured at Studios 301 in 2006.
SAE graduates operate a Solid State Logic XL 9000 console installed at the organisation's Byron Bay studio facility.
SAE graduates operate a Solid State Logic XL 9000 console installed at the organisation's Byron Bay studio facility.

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This month will see the SAE Group, the industry's largest technical services training provider, relocate its global headquarters from Australia to the UK.

SAE founder Tom Misner speaks to Sound & Stage about the company's plans for expansion in the education, production and technology sectors.

Why have you decided to relocate SAE's headquarters from Sydney to Oxford in the UK?

"Our business is enjoying unprecedented growth in Europe and the Middle East... you have to be based [near] your key markets."

There are several strategic reasons for our decision. Obviously, Oxford is very well known as a centre of academic excellence. But more importantly, our business is enjoying unprecedented growth in Europe and the Middle East.

The time difference separating these territories and Australia created too many logistical challenges. To run an efficient operation you have to be based in a similar time zone to your key markets.

Why did you choose Oxford over London?

It came down to the fact that we were offered the opportunity to purchase a really unique building in Oxford, which was formerly a hospital and dates from 1858. It has been fully converted into a modern office space and boasts all the infrastructure we require to operate our business globally.

When will the new facility officially open for business?

The office will open this month and will house 60 full-time administration staff along with our internet operations.

The school itself will welcome its first intake of students in October.

Are there any special plans for the school given that it will be attached to the headquarters?

The Oxford school will function exclusively as a degree centre. It won't cater to thousands of students.

It was always designed to be a small school but very luxurious and with high-spec equipment. Students who have completed their first year at an SAE school located anywhere in the world will be offered the opportunity to attend the Oxford school in their second year, or part of the year. It will only offer our degree and Masters programmes.

Several pro audio technology specialists, including Sony, have research and development operations based in Oxford. Did that factor into your decision?

It was a consideration. We have been thinking about relocating the AMS Neve HQ to Oxford as well. Solid State Logic already has a base there.

The SAE site also boasts a large empty plot which would be ideal for building additional office or manufacturing facilities.

What exactly is the relationship between AMS Neve and the SAE Group?

We own AMS Neve outright but Mark Crabtree remains the managing director and he runs the company.

"Kuwait [City] is shaping up as a likely entry point for [Studios 301] in the Middle East although Dubai also offers great commercial potential."

Neve also benefits from the promotional power of SAE as the students are exposed to the company's technology during their coursework. It is not an exclusive deal however. We also have great relationships with other brands such as SSL and Focusrite, among others.

What are your long-term plans for Neve?

Well any decision to relocate the company to Oxford would be with a view to expansion. We are looking to hone the product line to ensure it meets the changing needs of the market. We always have some input into product development. I personally conceived the Neve summing amp and also one of the smaller consoles which are now on the market.

Are you looking to acquire other pro audio manufacturing or technology companies in order to foster similar ties to those enjoyed through the Neve deal?

Always. I am always on the look-out [for new opportunities].

How many students are now enrolled in SAE schools worldwide?

There are around 36,000 globally with 850 of those in the Middle East.

What prompted your decision to open schools in the Middle East?

We had been considering it for 18 months prior to the first school opening in 2005 in Dubai. I had preconceived notions about the Middle East. The region boasts dynamic pro audio and live event production industries, which are undergoing massive change. These facts just aren't that well promoted in the West.

Once we had seen this progress for ourselves we fast-tracked our development strategy for the region. We now operate three schools across the Middle East and there are plans for a number of others.

Your newest school in Jordan operates as a franchise in conjunction with Amman-based Luminus Group. Are you working with any other partners to develop other schools?

We have had a large number of enquiries from companies interested in becoming partners, but we only seriously consider tenders submitted by those with experience of providing training services.

These companies appreciate the challenges that come with operating an institute of this kind.

We want to work with partners who are not looking solely to reap short-term commercial benefits but who are committed to our long-term vision.

SAE also operates four premium recording studios worldwide under the Studios 301 banner. Are there plans to establish any more facilities in the short-term?

We are planning to expand the business into new markets, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.

Europe and the US are already well-catered for in terms of the number of recording studios operating in both markets.

Emerging markets will be key to the company's growth.

Where in the Middle East would you consider establishing new recording studios?

We have been assessing Kuwait City and Dubai for some time. Kuwait is shaping up as a likely entry point although Dubai also offers great commercial potential.

In reality, we are hoping to establish a studio in Kuwait before the end of this year. We are looking at an existing studio but it needs to be acoustically modified amongst other changes.

SAE Dubai recently revealed that the company will open its next school in Cairo. Are you considering this as a potential studio location as well?

I think Cairo could prove to be a great site for a studio. Egypt boasts one of the biggest film and television production industries in the Middle East.

Would this studio more likely be involved in producing scores and soundtracking then?

It's too early to speculate at the moment. We'll have to wait and see how the school performs. We do have significant experience in terms of film and television production, mainly via our interest in Neve. The company's large-format mixing consoles are used in the production of more than 80% of all Hollywood films.

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