AAA Convention Goes to Philadelphia

Mclean, Va — The American Academy of Audiology’s 14th Annual Convention and Exposition takes place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, April 17-20. The convention, which has as its theme, “History in the Making,” is expected to draw over 7,000 audiologists and hearing care professionals.

This year’s keynote address will be from Amy Tan, author of the best-selling novel, The Joy Luck Club. Additional feature sessions include “Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Medical Emergency?”, “Genetics and Deafness,” and “Auditory Neuropathy and Cochlear Implants.”

For more information on this year’s convention, visit the AAA Web site at www.audiology.org  or contact the organization at 800-AAA-2336.

HIA holds annual meeting and EDI summit
Washington, DC—Reflecting the restructuring of hearing instrument manufacturing company ownership and industry re-organization, a“re-engineered” Hearing Industries Association (HIA) met in Miami during March. Over the past year, a Restructuring Task Force was charged with “reviewing all aspects of HIA, from its mission to its meetings, to make recommendations for change that better meet our members’ expectations for service, benefit and value.” The association adopted a new set of bylaws, revamped its committee structure, changed the format of HIA meetings, and adopted a new dues structure.

HIA also extended its membership to manufacturers of cochlear implants and other implantable hearing devices and to assistive device manufacturers. Product-based special interest groups will be created within HIA to enable companies in each of the product types to identify specific opportunities and challenges and to guide HIA in addressing them.

Business sessions at the meeting focused on the continuing challenge of promoting the importance of hearing health care and the benefits of amplification. The program featured the awareness campaign currently running in Canada for hearing loss and deafness, the Physician Education Program underway through the Better Hearing Institute (BHI), and the worldwide hearing portal on the Web, hear-it.org. (For more information, see the article on page 18 of this issue.)

Jerry Ruzicka, president of Starkey Laboratories, has been appointed the new chair of HIA. Serving alongside Ruzicka as an officer of the organization is Randy Raymond, Rayovac Corp, HIA secretary/treasurer. The 2002 HIA Executive Committee is comprised of the officers, Immediate Past Chairman Michael Jones, Unitron Hearing, and President Carole Rogin. HIA members elected seven directors to its 13-person Board: Jeffrey Bilas, Miracle-Ear; Mark Gorder, Resistance Technology, Inc; Carsten Trads, GN ReSound; John Zei, Knowles Electronics, Inc., as well as Jones, Raymond and Ruzicka.

More than 80 industry leaders and guests attended HIA’s 2002 Annual Meeting. Continuing on the HIA Board of Directors are Ian McWalter, Gennum Corp; Andy Raguskus, Sonic Innovations; Eric Spar, Widex; Mikael Worning, Oticon; and Erickson.

HIA also held a 1-day EDI Summit in Minneapolis during mid-March, focusing on electronic data interchange (EDI). The meeting featured information presented by Kimberly Morton, COO of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Denver Distribution Center, and Scott Peterson, director of operations (North and South America) of HIMSA, was designed to share information and move toward some standards in EDI.

d02b.jpg (7001 bytes)Unitron announces administrative changes
Kitchener, Ont, Canada—Michael Jones, former president of Phonak Inc, Warrenville, Ill, has been appointed corporate president of Unitron Hearing, headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario. Additionally, the Argosy brand name has been incorporated into the Unitron Hearing brand name. Jones retains his position on the board of directors of the Phonak Group. Brian Kinnerk has been appointed president of Unitron Hearing’s US operations, and Bruce Brown has been named marketing manager.

Jones’ move to Unitron Hearing reflects the increasing globalization of the hearing health care industry and manufacturers’ focus on being competitive in the worldwide market. Prior to joining the Phonak Group, Jones says he worked nearly 20 years in an international capacity for another major hearing instrument manufacturer. “Unitron Hearing is a worldwide brand and we export to 80 countries, with major facilities in Canada, Germany, and the US,” says Jones. “We’d like to continue this focus on a wider scale; we want to be a full-line supplier of high quality hearing products in the global market.” He points out that product life cycles are getting shorter, and companies need to become faster and more versatile. There are now six groups controlling about 90% of the hearing instrument market, and he believes there is a good chance that the number of players will become smaller.

“The Unitron brand has been around for a long time, and I think that we now have some new energy, new ideas, new products, and new concepts,” says Jones. “For example, we’re introducing a new range of digital products called Unison at AAA [The American Academy of Audiology convention]. It’s designed to be a digital for everyone.” He says that the new instruments will be available in all styles from CIC to BTE.

The Argosy brand name has been discontinued, and its products are being incorporated into Unitron. Lori/Unitron and Argosy merged in 1999, and the group was subsequently purchased by the Phonak Group in December 2000. “The decision to discontinue the Argosy brand name was a very difficult one,” says Jones, “because, obviously, Argosy has a strong reputation in the US. The question for [the Phonak Group] was one of a global positioning strategy. We seriously considered using Argosy worldwide, but the fact is that Unitron Hearing has a much stronger presence on the global stage. However, dispensing professionals should know that the same products and people from Argosy that everyone knows and respects are now an integral part of the Unitron Hearing brand.”

The decision also reflects the changing economies of scale that are incumbent on today’s hearing instrument manufacturers. Jones explains that hearing instrument manufacturer costs today are no longer determined at the production level; today’s costs center on research and development (R&D) and distribution, which includes education, training, and the development of fitting software. Maintaining multiple brands in the modern hearing instrument market requires undivided attention and substantial investment, and he says the Phonak Group wants to do an excellent job throughout all its affiliated companies, while maintaining distinct product lines, fitting software, and services.

Jones says that Unitron and Phonak, like several other companies in the hearing industry that are affiliated with larger groups, will benefit from each other in some ways, but will remain distinct entities. “As an example, the R&D and chip development of a new hearing aid can now reach $20-$30 million,” says Jones. “These chips are similar to the microprocessors in computers; without the application program, they’re essentially useless. So, from a hardware standpoint, the companies in the group can work together in some cases, while there will be substantial and important differences in each company’s product development, amplification and fitting strategies, and software.”

Rapid growth is expected at the new 110,000-sq-ft Unitron Hearing plant in Plymouth, Minn (see the February 2002 HR, page 12), and Jones likens it to the development of Phonak’s facility near Chicago, which opened in 2000: “In truth, we rattled around the Chicago facility at first. Today, most of that space is filled. When you take a 10-year lease, you’re looking at a long-term horizon; you certainly don’t want to move after only a few years. Likewise, we anticipate that Unitron Hearing’s US production facility is going to expand substantially.”

Dawson resigns as chairman of board at Sonus Corp
Portland, Ore—Sonus Corp announced that Brandon M. Dawson has resigned as chairman of the board of directors to pursue other interests. Dawson joined Sonus in 1995 as president and CEO, and became chairman of the board in December 1998. He will remain a member of Sonus’ board of directors.

Commenting on Dawson’s resignation, Dan Kohl, CEO of Sonus, says, “Seven years ago Brandon recognized the opportunity to change our industry. Since that time, and with his leadership, Sonus has grown from a handful of clinics in Western Canada and the US into North America’s largest audiology-based retailer of hearing instruments with more than 1,300 company-owned and affiliated hearing centers. We are grateful for Brandon’s past contributions and welcome his continued guidance as a member of our Board of Directors.”

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