Ron Camden “didn’t know anything at all about audio products” when he joined Biamp in 1987 as national sales manager after spending the previous several years as a market general manager for Bell Atlantic.
“I played the trumpet and had various stereos, but that was really about it,” says Camden about his experience with audio equipment before Biamp president Ralph Lockhart convinced him to join the Biamp team and lead its shifting and growing sales efforts.
Thirty years later, Biamp has gone from manufacturing audio products for music stores to selling their products exclusively to sound contractors, with a brief foray into selling audio mixers to DJs, while Ron Camden — retiring on Jan. 2, 2018 after 30 years in an industry he once knew nothing about, has become one of the industry’s foremost authorities on helping integrators get the gear they need to keep their customers happy.
While Camden, 65, may never truly feel like he’s helped people as much as he can, his industry colleagues say otherwise—and that’s why they’ll miss him.
“Ron is always saying, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you or anything I can help you with,’” says Cory Schaeffer, director of systems solutions for QSC’s global enterprise accounts. She met Camden about eight to 10 years ago at a small InfoComm International (now AVIXA) event in Chicago when she was with Listen Technologies.
“Most people we meet want something in return, but he really means it,” says Schaeffer. She put that offer to the test shortly after meeting Camden, asking him if he had a connection at a particular consulting firm. A few days later, Camden called Schaeffer back with contact information.
“He’s done so much for Biamp and so much for the industry,” says Schaeffer. “We go head-to-head on some things but, even as a competitor, he’s contributed so much to my life.” When Utah played Oregon State in football a few years ago, Schaeffer decked herself out in Beavers colors with Camden and her husband Tim as a show of support for her friend.
Later, Tim—who’s a woodworker—used his lathe to make Ron a pen from a circuit board in Biamp’s familiar red color.
“Ron is very direct and very blunt, but Biamp became a leader because of him,” says Schaeffer. “He’s passionate and relentless. It’s hard to think of Biamp without Ron.”
Camden’s generosity isn’t a rarity across the industry, either. Spinitar principal Jay Rogina remembers one of the first times he talked to Camden, when the company wanted some Biamp gear to outfit its showroom about 12 years ago.
“I was waiting for a fight,” says Rogina with a laugh. “Instead, what I got after a short pause was Ron saying, ‘OK, no problem. We’ll get you what you need.’ And he did.”
Fellow Spinitar principal Jeff Irvin has been impressed with Camden’s steady approach.
“He’s the same guy day in and day out,” says Irvin. “That’s something you look for in a manager and a leader. It seems like a simple thing to ask, ‘what can we do for you?’ but very few ask that question.”
Camden’s Path at Biamp
Even though Camden was new to the audio business, his mutual friend Lockhart had little doubt he’d succeed in his new role when he turned over the sales team to Camden.
“Ralph wanted someone who could move the business from music stores to sound contractors,” says Camden. “It was a pretty easy conversion once I learned Biamp needed a different label on its products if it wanted to sell anywhere but in music stores.” Biamp trademarked the Advantage label as a way of selling to new customers—with great success—under Camden’s leadership.
“Biamp had such a great name,” says Camden, noting the brand grew into the K-12, higher education and houses of worship market. “It was never a question about reliability.”
As part of the transition, Biamp added several new sales reps who were more in tune with selling to contractors at the time, including west regional manager Bruce Stimpson and east regional manager Read Wineland. Both spent at least 25 years with Biamp, says Camden, a testimony to the company leadership.
One of the telltale signs on how Biamp approached business, says Camden, came after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, when the company invested in new staff during a soft economy as it anticipated the eventual turnaround. Biamp went through eight years of 20-percent-plus growth in the next decade, then brought AVB to the market five or six years ago, allowing integrators to give their clients hundreds of inputs and outputs on their devices.
“It’s truly the story of an audio company that listens to its customers and builds relationships with integrators,” says Camden. “We have limited distribution. What that means is if you commit to us, we’ll commit everything we’ve got to you.”
That passion and commitment is evident in everything Camden does.
“What strikes me as unique about Ron and why we have valued him so highly here is he is a champion for the system integrator; he always has been,” says NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson.
“Whenever we have a program that we want to do that supports the integrator, he was always the first in line to sign up for it. He was always the first to call and say, ‘How can I help?’ We seldom got a call from him when he needed help at Biamp; he was more about helping the Biamp dealers. He’s always has had a very professional persona about him and a wonderful gentleman in terms of how he conducted himself and how he treated other people,” says Wilson.
Camden says his longevity with Biamp came from one simple thing: passion.
“I have such a tremendous passion for this company and I’ve developed such a passion for listening to our customers and getting them what they need,” he says. “If we didn’t sell anything, people would lose their jobs. My dad ingrained in me that when you have a job like the ones I’ve had here at Biamp, you accept the responsibility that comes with it to the people who work here. I’ve been fortunate to be selling a product that has quality built into it.” As evidence, Biamp was the first company in the space that put a five-year warranty on its products, he says.
Rogina and Bill Nattress encouraged Camden to get more involved with the industry as a whole and he served as president of the AVIXA International Communications Industries Foundation (ICIF) that awards scholarships and grants to increase awareness of and involvement in the space.
“I want to give back,” says Camden. “We all have a love for this industry. I’ve met some great people and built some great friendships. We’re all working for the same goal. The workforce development has been awesome. It’s motivating to work side-by-side with people who want to make a difference.”
Camden isn’t worried about Biamp’s future with him no longer involved.
“Biamp is at a great spot, an inflection point,” says Camden. “It’s time for someone else to take Tesira Lux and take the company to a whole new level.” Camden sees the Tesira Lux line as in the early stages of a three- to five-year growth spurt since “nothing in this industry takes hold in the first year.
“It would be wrong for me to stick around another three to five years when there are people who are better qualified to do it than me. I don’t need to worry about Biamp. They’ll be fine,” he says.
Camden is part of the search committee for his own replacement and he hopes to have some time to train and work with his successor before his retirement. He cites “a very competitive market” as a factor in the search, noting he’ll make suggestions on the type of person—or even the actual person he thinks best fits the job but “it’s really their decision and I’m fine with that.”
“They better have someone who’s fiercely competitive to be able to do this job well,” says Camden. “I want to see someone who listens to the customers and who’s good at building and maintaining relationships.”
Although Camden doesn’t necessarily understand every technical aspect of Biamp’s line of products, he can certainly explain to integrators and end users how the products can help them.
“Whether it’s a product or a service, the customer can either make money or get some other benefit from it or not,” he says. “If you can’t show them how they’ll make money or get some benefit from your product or service, it doesn’t matter about all the bells and whistles you add to the product because no one’s going to buy it.
“I’ve practiced forever learning what people’s pain points are and learned just enough about the technology,” says Camden.
But the family isn’t out of AV just because of Ron Camden retiring. His son Matt, 33, owns Audio IP Solutions and the company represents Biamp in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming.
Ron Camden Retiring: What Next
Camden says there are no health issues driving him toward retirement, saying simply “the time is right” for him to enjoy the next phase of his life, one that won’t involve sales meetings, but will involve trips to the beach and golf course.
Camden doesn’t know exactly what retirement will bring for him, but he’s looking forward to it.
“From the day I walked out of [Biamp president] Matt [Czyzewski]’s office in June, I’ve been looking at Jan. 2 as the start of a new chapter,” he says. “One thing I look forward to after 30 years of trying to hit our sales numbers to keep people employed, I’m ready to let someone else do that.”
Camden and his wife Roxy have a house in the Phoenix area where he hasn’t spent nearly as much time as he will once he’s retired. He expects to play more golf, spend time at the beach, exercise, catch up on some reading and eat fish tacos and drink Coronas in Maui, all while rooting on his beloved Oregon State University Beavers. He expects he’ll do more traveling—this time for pleasure rather than on sales calls—to Europe and Australia.
Interestingly, Camden has come to despise airports and hotel rooms, but maybe his perspective will change when the goal shifts from sales numbers to relaxation.
“It’s going to be a new experience, so I don’t really know how I’ll feel or what I’ll think until it happens,” he says. “The thing I’ll miss most is the relationships. I’ll try to keep up with as many of them as I can.”
Rogina has already assured Camden that he and Roxy have a standing invitation to future Spinitar Chairman’s Club trips. The couple has spent some time at Irvin’s vacation home outside Portland, Ore., having dinner and just hanging out.
“He has good character, good integrity and good ethics,” says Irvin. “We respect the heck out of him.”
Rogina took it a step further, saying even if people in the industry wanted to send Camden off in an amusing way, they wouldn’t have enough material.
“We’d be hard-pressed to roast him,” says Rogina. “He’s too nice of a guy.”