A Revamped Zenith Bound For CES Splash

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There's a new Zenith in town. It's got a new owner, a new top manager, and a new approach to market and product -- and it will be giving the industry a first look at the revamped Big Z in its extensive display on the main show floor at CES.

Zenith's appearance on the show floor will mark only the second time in the show's 33-year history that Zenith has been an exhibitor.

Zenith Sales president Bill Sims said the exhibit theme will be Bridge to Digital, with the secondary theme Enjoy the View.

"The majority of products here will be either digital, digital-related, or some type of futuristic design product," with the products grouped in sections, including "Digital View, Flat View, Kids View, or what the focus is," said Sims. "The only departure from that will be an area dedicated to our accessories business."

Representing LG Electronics (LGE) -- the new 100 percent parent of Zenith -- is Ian Woods, who took over the post of president/CEO at the start of this month in the wake of the departure of Jeffrey Gannon.

Australian-born Woods, who has a background as a management consultant, has been an LGE VP, attached to the chairman's office since 1997, and that, he said, is behind what for now will be his biggest contribution to Zenith: the ability to minimize the culture class between LGE and Zenith.

Acting as a "liaison between LGE and Zenith is the real linkage that I bring," said Woods. "I have the support back there, I have the support here. I lived in Korea for about three years, and it makes it a lot easier when you know the people and they know you. So we can get a lot of things done."

Zenith and LGE have already set up joint teams "in a number of areas to look at how we can maximize our position," he continued, pointing to Zenith's new 64" widescreen digital projection TV as a great example. That set, he said, comes from "a joint effort, a combination of people on both sides of the ocean working together. We expect to have a lot more products like that coming out in the future."

While Zenith's whole product planning, design and manufacturing universe is being altered, those looking in from the outside will see little in the way of change.

"The business will stay basically the same, with the corporate and sales organizations remaining separate," Woods explained. The task now "is to build off all the work we've been doing over the last three or four years, and with very limited resources," and fill a "vision of becoming a digital leader."

Zenith already has "a very high brand recognition, even though we haven't supported it recently," he continued. "We have good distribution, we have a good sales force, a strong dealer network, and some good core technologies. Now we are going to put [out] the resources needed" to turn the company around.

On the resource front, Woods noted, "Zenith is in the best position it's been in the last 10 years," with a healthy balance sheet and a powerful parent. LGE, he pointed out, has completed a reorganization, sold off underperforming assets, reduced debt, and expects to report a record operating profit this year -- "so LGE has the resources needed to support us."

From now on, LGE will be the prime source for Zenith product, which will be jointly designed. Most products will continue to be built in the former Zenith TV plant, now LGE owned, in Reynosa, Mexico.

Currently, Zenith is getting its 64W" and 54" projection TVs and its 27" flats from Korea, and will be sourcing flat-panel and digital TVs from Korea for the time being. "Eventually, we will have to build a new plant here" for large-screen digital TVs, Woods said.

He also noted LGE could be the source for 13" and other low-end TVs and VCRs that Zenith could sell here, but probably not under the Zenith brand.

Zenith is already starting to rebuild its brand image at the consumer level, Sims said. TV ads the company is running in Chicago, Denver, Miami and Minneapolis "communicate our theme, which is enjoy the entertainment experience with Zenith." The ads, he said, show that Zenith TVs are part of the experience "rather than just being a box with a lot of inputs."

While it will take at least another year for Zenith to introduce a totally revamped product line, the company will be giving dealers a look at things to come during CES.

"You will see a much-expanded lineup of digital-ready and integrated products" for delivery in 2000, Sims said, as well as a collection of flat-panel and widescreen direct-view TVs, and other digital products that will be coming down the road.

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