High Fidelity – GN Hearing

One of GN Hearing’s top executives talks to Milestone about the future of hearing devices and signing big partnerships with tech giants.

When you think of hearing aids, Apple or Google technology probably isn’t what springs to mind but GN Hearing’s Senior Vice President – Europe & Global Partner Sales Tom Woods explains why they’re the ideal match. “We partnered with Apple and were the first to come out with the ‘made for iPhone’ hearing aid,” he says. “When Google decided to have a standard protocol for streaming to and from hearing aids, they partnered with us, and we created the android streaming protocol.”

In late 2020, Tom moved to Copenhagen to take up his senior VP role after 14 years with the company in Minnesota, US. GN Hearing is part of the GN Group, founded in 1869 by Danish industrial mogul C.F Tietgan as the Great Northern Telegraph Company. In fact, GN was the first company to lay telegraph cables connecting Europe and Asia. Today, it manufactures hearing aids and headsets to a worldwide market under the ReSound, Beltone, and Interton brand names.

Its parent company, GN Store Nord, is listed on NASDAQ Copenhagen (GN.CO). The company is doing well despite recent events, delivering organic revenue growth of 95% in Q2 2021 and an EBITA improvement to DKK 153 million in Q2 2021.

We partnered with Apple and were the first to come out with the ‘made for iPhone’ hearing aid

Pushing innovation and developing partnerships are part of Tom’s responsibilities, and he’s proud to be building on what GN Hearing has achieved so far – for example, The company is a pioneer in 2.4 GHz wireless technology streaming solutions. The industry had previously been reliant on magnetic induction streaming but this older technology often resulted in latency issues and poor audio. At the time, 2.4 GHz streaming was considered impossible. This is a perfect example of how GN Hearing innovates and finds solutions to difficult challenges that ultimately benefit both consumer and professional needs. “Everyone else in the industry said it couldn’t be done but we were able to do it, and that created the new industry standard,” Tom explains. Following this success, GN Hearing developed device-to-device information exchange for bilateral hearing loss – another first for the company.

Tom is quick to note that the company’s partners and customers also drive development decisions: “We have a somewhat different philosophy to other companies in the medical device space, in that we don’t look for innovation for innovations sake. We truly listen to the community to fully understand what people want.”

Market engagement with medical clinics and end users was critical in getting the company through the recent challenges wrought by the pandemic. “In April 2020, the market dropped by 80-90% and almost shut down, which was completely unprecedented,” Tom recounts, but as medical clinics started opening back up, GN

Hearing helped recovery efforts. There were obvious constraints around safety, like limiting the number of people in clinics and personal devices needing to be delivered for repair, so Tom’s team advised on a range of issues from how to use clinic carparks as safe device drop locations, to remote device sterilising.

Tom says: “I think it brought us closer to our customers, because we spent weeks working out how to create programmes to educate them on how to open up safely again. We were educating people on how to do hearing tests remotely for people getting hearing aids for the first time, and advising people on government financial packages. Our actions have shown our customers that they can rely on us.”

This increased closeness was something that Tom experienced in his personal life too. As a busy executive used to spending large chunks of time travelling, the pandemic proved an opportunity for him to reconnect with his family. “It was really great for us to sit down and have family dinners every night. It was very similar to families coming closer together, our company and customers became closer too.”

When Google decided to have a standard protocol for streaming to and from hearing aids, they partnered with us, and we created the android streaming protocol

The crisis has left long-term effects on hearing healthcare. There are new demands that require a rethink of service delivery. Low and no touch services are now necessary for audiology patients, raising challenges around how practitioners will trouble shoot and track hearing devices and counsel patients remotely. These shifts have thrown up challenges for developing and refining products too, and reiterate the need for GN Hearing to align with its customers.

Tom says GN Hearing’s close working relationships with clinics is a massive advantage for the company. Community and customer feedback has led directly to the development of its current research efforts in personalisation. Tom describes how hearing is almost like a fingerprint, in that everyone hears slightly differently.

In April 2020, the market dropped by 80-90%, it almost shut down which was completely unprecedented

Aligned to GN’s organic hearing philosophy, Tom agrees that the one size fits all approach doesn’t work – he says hearing aids should be personalised and “organic.” “It enables us to come up with some really cool and unique advances that deliver something a little different to other folks in the industry right now. We get a more natural sound, better localisation, better spatial awareness.”

The company has a lofty goal: to expand its technology and deliver reliable, high quality products that improve the life of people with hearing loss. GN Hearing sums it up as “hear more, do more, and be more.” Tom argues that the key to achieving this goal is forging partnerships, like those already signed with tech giants Apple and Google, while deals with GN’s sister company Jabra, which makes wireless earbuds, sports earbuds, and headsets, are equally vital. “We set the bar really high. We have partners in academia, we work with startups who are looking to do unique things in the space or have complimentary technology that we might be able to leverage, and now we work with digital leaders to continue to push the limits. We’re not resting on our laurels but looking at what’s next to come. We want to be the company that delivers that.”

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