“The Swiss are renowned for precision, hi-tech, and miniaturization”
- Hani Houri
It’s my country of birth so it’s evident that I want to live and work here despite the arduous conditions during the military and political strife periods that we have gone and still going through. Furthermore, the Lebanese market is sophisticated in comparison to other markets in the region. Just like other products, hearing aids come in different technological levels and the more features, the higher the price. Our average selling price (ASP) in Lebanon is not only higher than those in the Levant but also higher than those in Turkey and Greece for example.
Why do you work with Swiss hearing aids? How do you maintain your position in the Lebanese market?
Since 1980 we worked with almost all the biggest hearing aid brands. German, Danish, American, and in 1992 we stumbled on the Swiss Phonak. Ever since, we worked with only Swiss hearing aids for two reasons. In the first place, the Swiss product is truly outstanding. A case in point is that Phonak is now the No.1 hearing aid brand worldwide. I think it has to do with the Swiss dedication to perfectness but also to the fact that Sonova allocates a high percentage of their yearly profits to R&D so they are able to come out with excellent products. In the second place, the Swiss, obviously, being export oriented they have to go out of their way to support their local distributors. With Sonova it is not an exception.
We maintain our leading position in Lebanon by utilizing our technical knowhow and our sales & marketing savviness and that we have developed in a bit under four decades. But this is necessary but not sufficient. Without the exemplary support of Sonova we would have not been able to achieve this.
Why do you think the Lebanese trust Swiss products?
From chocolates to high tech and precision instruments, people all over the world trust Swiss products so why should the Lebanese be different?
As a rule of thumb, Swiss products, are durable products so they are great value for money. Swiss products are also exceptionally innovative which sets them apart. The Lebanese are discerning consumers, so it goes without saying that they have an admiration for Swiss brands.
This doesn’t apply to Swiss hi tech products only. My late father-in-law was a renowned fabric dealer in the golden days (Fifties to Seventies) and I clearly remember he once told me, many years ago, that the Swiss fabrics are the best in the world. This has to tell you something.
What is it like working with Swiss companies?
As I mentioned earlier, I have worked with several companies of different nationalities. For example, a German manufacturer we worked with in the past never gave us enough attention. Their reasoning was that we are a small market and their focus was on larger ones. With the Swiss, all markets, whether big or small, get the right attention and resources.
Furthermore, the Swiss are truly hands-on in their management approach, and they seem to have figured out the perfect way to connect the dots seamlessly between R&D, design, manufacturing, quality control, logistics, and sales & marketing.
Another admirable quality, at least in the Sonova group, is their laid back and employee-centered corporate attitude. Everybody is in casual attire, and everybody is on first name basis with everybody else, even with CEO. Lots of attention is given to company perks (go have lunch at the superb Sonova canteen) and other employee benefits. Strolling around the corporate headquarters and talking to people, you could feel as if the employees own the place!
We learned a lot from this Swiss ethos, and have incorporated this in our managerial approach.
There’s a saying and I don’t know if it is an urban myth or not, but it goes like this: The Swiss manufacture a product to the highest standards, and then calculate its cost, not the other way around.