Rank: #30 (Last year: #26)
Prior Fiscal: $2.77 Billion
Percentage Change: 0%
No. of Employees: 14,740
Global Headquarters: Stäfa, Switzerland
Arnd Kaldowski, CEO
Hartwig Grevener, CFO
Claude Diversi, Managing Director, Phonak France
Victoria E. Carr-Brendel, Group VP of Cochlear Implants of Sonova and President, Advanced Bionics
Christophe Fond, Group VP, Retail
Martin Grieder, Group VP, Phonak
Ludger Althoff, Group VP, Operations
Andi Vonlanthen, Group VP, Research & Development
The cameras captured it all: The glamour, the tension, the (apparent) camaraderie, the smiles, and of course, the ultimate triumph.
There’s a lot the cameras didn’t catch though: The (callous) laughter, the (hurtful) comments, the isolation, the inequities, and, of course, the ultimate heartbreak.
Sophie Vouzelaud remembers it all, though the off-camera experiences have been far more enduring.
Vouzelaud, a deaf model, made history a dozen years ago upon being elected the first runner-up in the 2007 Miss France pageant (representing the Limousin region). At the time, the now 31-year-old was the first deaf or hard-of-hearing person to participate in a Miss France finalist contest.
Vouzelaud lost the crown to Rachel Legrain-Trapani despite being a public favorite. A jury panel (which no longer is used to choose winners) elected Legrain-Trapani in a single, albeit controversial, vote.
“Why did [the jury] put me in second place?” Vouzelaud wondered aloud in a YouTube interview earlier this year. “That’s what I did not really understand. And then there is a woman, who is part of the Miss France committee, who said it was to ‘protect me.’ But protect me from what? Maybe it was an excuse, or they were afraid of me...they did not trust me about my deafness.”
Maybe so, but the remark’s true motivation will likely never be known—a main reason, perhaps, for its lasting impact on Vouzelaud. Another potential reason for its durability is the memories it triggers for Vouzelaud of other alleged injustices she experienced in the beauty pageant world.
One of Vouzelaud’s more explosive allegations—which she has often discussed—involves her exclusion from the 2007 Miss World pageant. With the support of Legrain-Trapani, Vouzeland requested to represent France at the Miss World pageant to increase awareness and exposure of deaf people. Organizers, however, refused, contending that entrants must be official winners from their respective countries. Vouzelaud claims past runners-up have participated in Miss World but the event’s online qualification rules do not discuss participants’ titles.
“Miss World refused, they just told me that they had changed and the [runners-up] could not participate any more,” Vouzelaud charges in her YouTube interview. “When the Miss World Committee heard that I was deaf, they said, ‘Why not participate in Miss Deaf World?’ There, I understood that it was discrimination.”
Rather than fight the Miss World decision, Vouzelaud chose to participate in the 2007 Miss International contest in Japan against a deaf Venezuelan, Vanessa Peretti. Only Peretti qualified for the top 15.
Since retiring from the beauty contest circuit, Vouzelaud has won supporting roles in feature films, acted in a range of popular French television shows, and been named an ambassador for Christian Dior perfume. The born deaf native of Saint-Julien, France, also actively campaigns for greater acceptance of people living with hearing loss—a cause presumably inspired by her pageant experiences.
“I always had to struggle,” she states in Sonova Holdings AG’s 2018/19 annual report, “but I have proved that I can achieve the same as anyone else!”
Clearly, Vouzelaud has proven her merit in the auditory world, thanks largely to the hearing aids she’s been fitted with since early childhood. She currently uses a Phonak system from Sonova, a global manufacturer of hearing care solutions that has resolved to help customers like Vouzelaud “enjoy the delight of hearing and...live a life without limitations.”
Such a life became significantly more practicable last year with Sonova’s launch of the Phonak Audéo Marvel, a hearing aid touted as the first to fully support binaural direct media streaming (music, phone, live/on-demand video) from any Bluetooth-enabled device. The Marvel platform also can stream all audio content seamlessly from any iPhone or Android device to both ears in full stereo.
Marvel hearing aids are rechargeable and work with dedicated apps that allow wearers to experience remote adjustments as well as real-time voice-to-text call transcription. Moreover, its directional microphone technology can help improve speech understanding in noisy environments by 60 percent while simultaneously reducing the amount of effort required (19 percent) to listen and understand conversations, according to Sonova.
Marvel’s new TV Connector—a plug-and-play solution that automatically connects with televisions within range—turns the hearing aids into wireless headphones. RogerDirect streams the Roger signal directly to the tiny devices, allowing for a 33 percent smaller and 66 percent lighter hearing aid housing compared to the previous Roger solution.
“Marvel delivers exceptional sound quality from the first fit—hence our slogan, ‘Love at first sound’—while improving speech understanding in the most difficult listening situations,” Sonova Board Chairman Robert Spoerry and CEO Arnd Kaldowski told shareholders in the company’s annual report. “Combined with our rechargeable technology, the new platform is a true multifunctional marvel. The market reaction is very positive...”
So positive, in fact, that it helped bolster Sonova’s Hearing Instrument segment sales 3.9 percent in FY18/19 to 2.52 billion francs. A stronger Euro and U.S. dollar contributed 0.3 percent to the growth in this division.
Sonova’s audiological care business increased proceeds 6.7 percent in FY18/19 (year ended March 31, 2019) due mostly to organic growth (rising 5.2 percent) and bolt-on acquisitions. But profits were tempered by a reduction in the number of U.S. stores.
Hearing instrument sales climbed 2 percent to 1.47 billion francs, with Europe and Asia/Pacific posting high single-digit gains. Revenue, however, was offset a bit by the springtime sale of the company’s hearing benefits subsidiary (Epic Hearing) to UnitedHealth Group.
Though they had little impact on the latest fiscal year sales, Sonova shored up future hearing instrument profits with new innovations in the Unitron and Hansaton product portfolios. The Unitron Max comes with three Super Power presets in two behind-the-ear (BTE) models; each preset features a different combination of sound processing, directionality, and gain.
The Hansaton beat SHD RS13 and beat SHD RS675 are equipped with Sonova’s HearIntelligence technology to support a more natural hearing experience through features like precise speech processing, localization, and optimization. In addition, the new models have three different “power” pre-sets (classic, active, modern) to enhance patient fit.
Based on its initial reception, the HiRes Ultra 3D implant is likely to generate significant future revenue for Sonova. Its debut performance wasn’t too shabby, however, as it contributed to a 6.3 percent gain in Cochlear Implants segment revenue (to 238.4 million francs).
Approved in late August 2018, the HiRes Ultra implant is made to withstand magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams. The device’s magnet design aligns with an external 3D magnetic field, allowing cochlear implant recipients to move freely around within the strong magnetic field of an MRI machine without experiencing pain or discomfort, and without head positioning restrictions. The magnet is composed of four rotatable rods encased in a revolving disc, an arrangement that allows for alignment with an MRI field in all three dimensions.
The HiRes Ultra implant helped bolster cochlear implant systems sales 7.7 percent to 178.9 million francs. Upgrades and accessories revenue growth was modest at 2.4 percent (59.5 million francs) against a challenging prior year comparison, particularly in the United States. But the division somewhat rebounded in the fiscal year’s second half, powered by a strong rollout of the Naída CI processor in China as well as improved pricing and structural and productivity improvements.
Overall, Sonova grew sales 4.4 percent to 2.76 billion francs (revenue was flat when converted into U.S. dollars) and increased gross profit 5.2 percent to 1.96 billion francs. Europe, Middle East and Africa, the company’s largest region, scored the highest gains (8.3 percent in local currencies), thanks to the Phonak Marvel’s popularity in France and Germany. Asia/Pacific revenue climbed 5.4 percent with both the hearing instruments and audiological care businesses recording high single-digit increases. Divestitures led to a 3.7 percent dip in U.S. revenue, but the loss was partially neutralized by a 2.7 percent sales hike in rest of the Americas (excluding the United States).