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Shen Milsom & Wilke’s Marc Hochlerin: AV Living Legends #46

Published: 2024-04-02Modified: 2024-04-05

The Commercial Integrator #AVLivingLegends initiative is meant to celebrate and honor our industry’s biggest contributors. With this series, we thus hope to spotlight the difference-makers and world-changers who move among us. This week, Shen Milsom & Wilke (SM&W)’s Marc Hochlerin joins as our 46th inductee in the #AVLivingLegends family.

Currently global client services director and senior principal at SM&W, Hochlerin’s background in acoustical and audiovisual technology coupled with his 30-year history of providing effective best practice engineering solutions has made him an asset for the AV industry. Indeed, he deserves the honor of being an AV Living Legend!

In this interview, Hochlerin narrates a compelling story about his journey into AV, the mentors he met along the way along with an interesting anecdote involving the Woodstock Festival of 1969!

Enjoy this intimate conversation with SM&W’s Marc Hochlerin!

FEATURED REPORT

And if you’d like to read even more coverage relating to our #AVLivingLegends, like SM&W’s Marc Hochlerin, check out our hub page. It includes direct links to every living legend!

Commercial Integrator: What motivated you to join the commercial AV industry?

Marc Hochlerin: Like many of that time I came to this sector via the music and pro audio industry. In the ’70s and ’80s, we recorded and performed about 200 shows a year with our band Mazarin. The band is celebrating its 50th year and was just featured in an exhibit at the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame.

While involved with the band, I always had a day gig and wanted to learn more about the business. These were jobs that best fit my crazy schedule and aligned with my interest in learning more about audio technology, and the business of sales. My first job was at Gracin’s Music & Pro Sound in Hempstead N.Y. It was there I applied what I knew (up to that time) and then learned from the best in what went into engineering performance audio systems for our customers, many of whom were major touring bands and artists.

From Gracin’s, I was invited to join the LI Drum Center. My role with the LIDC was very interesting. I was there to direct the educational initiatives and work directly with the, late, very great Dom Famularo in booking and coordinating his drum clinics that were held at high schools and colleges in the N.Y. metro area.

The Drum Center was continuing to grow and expand, and I was asked to also become their representative for products that they would distribute such as JOPA Latin Percussion Products to other retail music stores. It was another facet and area of business and professional sales i.e., business to business, to add to my experience. It also enabled me to be around and learn from great drummers and musicians and receive meaningful discounts on drums, sticks, equipment etc. Thanks Jerry & Dennis Ricci!

Joining the AV Sphere

My last “day” job on the path that led directly to the career in the commercial AV industry was in the mid 80s with Newmark & Lewis. They were an audio and appliance retailer in the metro N.Y. and Northeast area with 40-plus stores. I joined Newmark as an associate in the audio department. Thanks Stan Geryk!

Retail electronics sales incorporates much that is involved with solution-based systems design and consultative selling. Most importantly, it involved building trust with your customer. Again, I learned from the best. Alan Jaffe, Ed Pitrowski, Larry Himmelbaum, and Bob Berliner. Bob later served for decades in a leadership role at Bose and he’s still rocking!

My role at Newmark evolved, having achieved the third-highest audio department revenue of 40 stores where I built trust and friendships with my customers. It was later when I first began working at Shen Milsom & Wilke (SM&W) that Fred Shen said, “We call them clients Marc, clients.” I was so fortunate, and learned so much from Fred Shen (more on that in a bit)!

One of my loyal retail clients at that time was the VP of the largest global movie theater chain in the world. He would come in and order hundreds of car audio speakers that he would have installed for aircrafts like 727s or on ships or distributed audio for the walls of mansion size residences. I was grateful for the customers that asked me to design and specify the equipment for their retail stores, doctors’ offices, houses of worship and their homes, and outline what cabling or infrastructure was required.

In the retail environment, at that time, there were no “flat panels,” no internet, no network wireless systems or technicians on staff to install “audio systems” that the stores sold them. That was reserved for the high-end specialty audio stores.

Working at ACE Audiovisual

A client whose residential system I designed and personally installed was so happy with the service called me and said, “I’m the co-owner of a company with a division that I think could really use your services.” That client was Ed Koch of TVR Communications. ACE Rental company was owned by TVR. I then received a call from Mark Saltzman, who worked at ACE. He said, “Ed Koch told me I should connect with you.” Mark directed the institutional AV sales department for ACE and really knew his stuff.

Mark had orders to fill and I had products in some of the categories that needed to go to schools for ACE’s contract sales. It was a great fit. We would speak quite often and I assisted him by also connecting ACE to resources that could fulfill his product requests for commercial items we didn’t carry at Newmark. We became fast friends.

When I started working at ACE Audiovisual in Woodside, Queens as VP of Sales, Mark and I grew closer. Mark was my best man at my wedding in ’94. He taught me so much about commercial AV each day. He was great at math, I wasn’t. He was patient with me. I loved him as did so many clients, colleagues and members of our industry. Mark Saltzman is a true AV legend and one the bravest people I’ve ever met. He never wanted the focus of his friends to be on his health while he navigated decades of debilitating issues. He was the best father, husband and loyal friend anyone in this world could ever ask for. I miss him every day.

When we began corporate services at ACE our new clients included Michael Bloomberg who, following his time at Solomon Bros, started a company called Bloomberg LLP. After conducting a demo for Mike at their new offices in NYC, Bloomberg’s first order was for 50 Telex Magnabyte panels and 50 Elmo portable overhead projectors. Mike being Mike, used them unconventionally where he strapped them together and hung them upside down from the ceiling in conference and meeting rooms.

Mike’s next order was for 100 each with travel cases to put them in for the Bloomberg sales team. ACE continued to work with Bloomberg on major facilities installations for over 20 years. Throughout, I learned so much from Mike — he is a visionary. When he would inquire about a certain product or platform applications, one became an improved listener with Mike.

Working together with Howard Edelman (another visionary) from United Artists whom I’d first met at Newmark & Lewis, ACE became responsible for the design, deployment, content production and distribution for the Lobby Theater Network for United Artists theaters globally. This led to work with other exhibitors and videowall and experience center installations throughout the United States, in Japan, Iceland, South America along with construction administration trips for installations to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the U.K.

That is how I became motivated to work for what would become a commercial AV industry leader. As the first CTS certified ‘company’ and a great team culture, ACE Audiovisual developed truly talented and amazing people who achieved great outcomes with inspiring clients.

Commercial Integrator: What has kept you motivated and engaged in the decades that followed?

Marc Hochlerin: Inspiration, whether working as an integrator or consultant, comes from many different places. In 2004, Fred Shen invited me to join SM&W, and begin a new career in a consultancy role at the firm with a focus on client’s enterprise and program requirements along with developing multi-sector consulting relationships.

SM&W was a key client for over a decade with ACE Audiovisual. If anything, I was a huge fan of the magic and iconic work in SM&W’s portfolio. Naturally, I enthusiastically joined and became an inspired consultant.

I’ve always been inspired by and motivated to work with visionary clients, great architects and end users. Through the decades, Michael Brady, Global CTO at Wells Fargo, certainly comes to mind. Keenly, day in day out, I derive engaged inspiration working with my colleagues. Their creativity, expertise and client commitment is motivating. They share a focus of working together to serve our clients’ requirements and deliver exceptional services across their campus or enterprise. All of us at SM&W in our sector diverse practice are collectively engaged each day by what we do and who we do it for.

I have always been focused on what’s next in the future. I live by an edict I heard in an interview with George Wein, the impresario, jazz musician, producer and promoter who said, “It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you’re doing.”

It’s a stimulating environment to be a part of. You can’t help but feel engaged as part of a team providing the connected, multidisciplinary subject matter expertise of AV, acoustics, IT infrastructure, IT systems, security, medical equipment planning, healthcare information technology, laboratory equipment planning and theater technology planning. And this is across sectors of education, corporate, healthcare, museum and cultural, institutional, hospitality, judicial, sports, media, entertainment, gaming, transportation, life sciences, experiential retail, mixed use and residential.

Commercial Integrator: Reflect on your role as both a mentee early in your career and as a mentor later in your career. Who helped shape the trajectory of your professional life? How have you tried to help shape others’ careers?

Marc Hochlerin: Guidance is so important to give & receive. Life and business guidance was a constant from my mom and dad, and although they are no longer here, I still have what they instilled in me to call on and look to always.

My grandfather, Sol Levinson, was the one I looked to for business guidance. Since childhood, I had ‘Poppy’ to discuss business with. Pops was a self-made man much like my other grandfather Bill Hockey who was my dad’s father but unfortunately, was gone too soon.

Pops grew up on the lower east side of NYC. His parents were first-generation immigrants, and his father had a business fixing household items and specializing in repairing sewing machines. My grandfather would pick up and deliver the machines. Pops later opened and operated Levinson Hardware in midtown. During WWII, he had an offshoot of the hardware store business that worked in military base PX supply and in locating items that the US Armed Forces were having difficulty getting a hold of. During the war, the U.S. armed forces couldn’t source enough flashlights. Somehow, my grandfather found a warehouse in N.J. packed with flashlights. Only one problem — they were German flashlights. Regardless, the Army said, “Thank you! We’ll take them all.”

From working at the hardware store, my grandfather was hired by one of his top clients and enjoyed a magnificent career with the same company for over 40 years. Pops taught me many things about delivering your best, keeping your word and building long-term client relationships.

Louis Posner built a great company, and was a paratrooper in WWII and a mentor to many. He was regarded a “Solomon” of a man. I was fortunate to work with him for 15 years and receive his direct mentorship. He said, “Running a great business is 1% business & 99% people” He taught leadership and pronounced that there was nothing more important than acting with urgency in all matters related to the clients. He also emphasized solid, pro-active communication with clients and staff. The Lou Posner Holocaust Memorial Center stands in his name in Glen Cove, Long Island.

Walter Hunt, vice chairman of Gensler, was a legend. He was a 30-year client and close friend of my grandfather’s. Not enough can ever be said about Walter and Walter’s impact on the people he inspired and the projects he was responsible for which included the Comcast Center in Philadelphia, MGM City Center Las Vegas, Verizon Global Headquarters, NJ, Novartis HQ, N.J.

Walter lived for his clients and developed relationships that lasted beyond lifetimes. He was a mentor with a focused program, approach and discipline that was invaluable. I’m very grateful to have been able to call him friend and mentor.

I also had the honor of working with Fred Shen, the president, chairman and founder of SM&W. Fred was another true “visionary.” Mentorship with Fred came in the way of focused meetings in his office, shared experiences, setting goals and discussing the strategy to achieve them. He and Steve Emspak taught me how to be a consultant following 20 years as an AV integrator. Fred taught me how to be “tangible.” I was never prouder than to visit our clients together with him. I was constantly learning from the master.

Fred’s mentorship and confidence in my abilities encouraged my commitment particularly when I was promoted to principal, director of global operations. I’ve served in several roles with the firm, but think Fred would agree I’m most effective in my current one.

Jana Goldin has been a friend, business coach and mentor to me for over 20 years. Jana’s business skills are sharp, and she became my constant role model in how to develop and maintain client relationships through building trust and presenting competence. I value her mentorship immensely.

Steve Emspak initially was my client whose trust I had to earn to be part of SM&W. Steve had become my friend and coach. I am forever grateful for his confidence in me, and for setting up lunch with Fred Shen in 2003 that changed my life. It put me on a path to do something different in this industry that I enjoy to my core.

Once through the doors of SM&W, Steve became a mentor and partner who provided significant guidance on what it meant to be a successful consultant. I treasure our friendship. Also, I am most proud of Steve, my bandmate in “The Drunk Unkles” and his inspiring commitment in what we were able to achieve raising funds for the NSCA Education Foundation. The NSCA Scholarships along with programs focused on campus ENS and security awareness were all enabled and funded though the many shows, events and performances through 2019.

My role over the last 20 years has very much included being a mentor. It’s a role in my multi-faceted program of responsibilities that I enjoy very much as it allows me to be a coach, give back and work with our staff to establish their goals and in realizing them. In fact, our firm developed a formal mentor program in which I proudly participate.

Commercial Integrator: What’s the most memorable story/anecdote of your career in commercial AV?

Marc Hochlerin: I live in Woodstock, N.Y. In 1994, Michael Lang was planning to hold another major festival in Saugerties, N.Y., right next to the town of Woodstock. As many of you may be aware, the first famous festival in 1969 was not actually held in the Town of Woodstock. It was held a little over an hour away from Woodstock in the town vicinity of Bethel. We at ACE and all of us — myself included — wanted to be involved. At the time, we thought we could be of assistance in providing the distribution systems for the press. That’s something we did for major events like the U.S. Open. I had been calling and writing to Michael to introduce our services but no reply, just crickets…

So, I sent a priority FedEx to him. That weekend, my wife asked me to head over to the local video store and pick up a film (you remember video stores?). I was reluctant at first, but I still went to the store. So, I’m going through the racks of films and turn the next aisle and whoa, there’s Michael Lang going through the films.

I figured it was now or never. I approached him, saying, “Hi Michael, nice to meet you, I’m Marc, we live in town, I’ve been reaching out to you hoping to connect as our company provides AV press distribution for major events.” Before I can get another word out, Michael replied, “Oh, sure, yes, I know. Someone was supposed to call you, you got the gig.” I then gushed, “Wow, thank you Michael!”

He added, “Yes, please call my office tomorrow and we’ll get every set up. We’re going to need more services from you. We want you to fit out the AV for all the press and hospitality spaces and provide the production distribution to the satellite uplink.” It turned out to be an amazing experience and a front-page story in Sound & Communications chronicling all we did for this historic event.

RIP Michael Lang. We became friends as he was close with my BFF, Leon Gast. We would see each other at Leon’s house and always got a laugh about the fact that our crew stole his Jeep at the concert. That is a story for another time.

Commercial Integrator: What has been your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Marc Hochlerin: My greatest professional accomplishment would be the opportunity to serve our valued clients with my amazing SM&W colleagues on meaningful, recent engagements. These include The LIRR Train Hall Renovation; Bessemer Trust Global Headquarters; Digital Currency Group HQ; BlackRock Global HQ; Hospital for Special Surgery WPB; The Rockefeller Foundation HQ; Mitsubishi Americas HQ; Northwestern Mutual Brookfield Campus; Fordham University McKinley Hall Renovation Expansion; Hofstra University School of Innovation & Northwell School of Nursing; Bain Capital Houston/Austin/LA; The United Nations; Alphasights; Morgan Stanley; UNICEF HQ; KPMG; Bideawee NYC and the AKC Museum of the Dog!

Commercial Integrator: What has been your biggest professional regret to date?

Marc Hochlerin: No regrets. Gratitude for each day experienced and lived, and for the people in my life.

Commercial Integrator: What’s the best advice or pearl of wisdom you either received during your career or came to realize on your own?

Marc Hochlerin: I live by these. My favorites.

  • Earn trust via proof, examples & performance – Walter Hunt
  • Relationships are key – Walter Hunt
  • Your people are your most important asset – Lou Posner
  • Don’t make a sale, make a client – Sol Levinson
  • No organization can depend on genius; the supply is always scarce and unreliable. It is the test of an organization to make ordinary human beings perform better than they seem capable of, to bring out whatever strength there is in its members, and to use each person’s strength to help all the others perform. The purpose of an organization is to enable common people to do uncommon things. – Peter F. Drucker via Louis Posner

Would you also like to nominate a peer or colleague — or perhaps yourself!  in this #AVLivingLegends series just like SM&W’s Marc Hochlerin? If so, just email Dan Ferrisi, group editor, commercial and security, Emerald, at [email protected].

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