scorecardThe CEO of Bose knows her success relies on this one thing
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The CEO of Bose knows her success relies on this one thing

Josée Rose   

The CEO of Bose knows her success relies on this one thing
LifeInternational9 min read
  • As CEO of Bose, Lila Snyder is focused on sound and how we consume content.
  • Snyder embraces "the discomfort of something new and something challenging."
Bose CEO Lila Snyder stepped into her job during one of the most difficult times in business history. It was September 2020, during the COVID pandemic.

As much of the world adjusted to working from home, supply chains got disrupted, and consumers consumed more content, Snyder had to focus on one important idea: sound.

"Sound is what matters so much at Bose," she told me. "If you think about the way that we're consuming content, it's getting more and more challenging. The formats are different. The quality of the content is different. We're consuming it on the go and in some harsh environments."

Another challenge came from being CEO — a job that can produce its own harsh environment. We spoke about Snyder's leadership mantra as the head of 6,000 people worldwide: "It's the team that will be successful." We spoke about imposter syndrome, bringing in more women engineers and music producers, and the one thing she wished she'd have done differently so far.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you wind up as Bose CEO?

I feel really lucky to be the Bose CEO. I was the right person at the right time. And I think it's such a unique brand that I feel like I've got an affiliation with — the connection to MIT — and I'm an MIT alum. And it's a technology innovation company and I've always loved technology and innovation — and such an iconic brand. And so, for me, it was just this perfect opportunity that I feel really lucky to be a part of.

Can you name a challenge whether it's a leadership challenge or a CEO challenge, running a company that's very high profile?

I think the challenge always is feeling like you're ready for the role when you get it. It's probably been the biggest challenge. I'm three years in now. That moment of working towards something and then you finally get that job and you think, "Oh, am I ready to do this?" I think that's probably in the beginning. That was the biggest challenge, particularly given what was going on in the world. So I started in 2020, which was in the middle of COVID. And we had a supply-chain crisis, and we had, you know, war in Ukraine. And all of these things were sort of coming at us from the world around us and, you know, just mustering up the belief that I was ready to be in the role and I was feeling confident in that role.

Would you say sometimes the biggest challenge is — and I have it — imposter syndrome?

I think most people have it, right? If you don't you probably don't have the level of humility that you need. I think, to me, one of the most important things I've always said is taking risks in your career — sort of pushing yourself to do things that make you uncomfortable — that's how we learn and grow and develop. This was a great example of that for me, having never done it before, assuming I would know how to do it exactly perfectly would be crazy.

Embracing the discomfort of something new and something challenging — I think it's part of how we learn and grow. So whether that's impostor syndrome or something else — the idea that you're taking on a challenge before you might feel fully ready — that's what all of us, I think, should be doing in our careers, right? That's how we get better. That's how we advance.

Sometimes the risk that you take is someone pushing you. It's not always us stepping into the form and into the fray. But sometimes we need sponsors who see — and I've certainly had a lot of them in my career who saw potential and said, "You're going to do it and it's going to be fine." I think being able to fall back on that and know that someone you respect and admire feels like you're ready sort of gives you the courage to take on that challenge, which I think is awesome.

Do you have a mantra that you tell yourself when you're going into a difficult meeting or meeting with people you never met before or when you have to be the person with the pants in the room?

I am a big believer in it's no one person. It's the team. Probably the mantra is, it's the team that will be successful. And so, regardless of the situation, knowing that I've got a great team around me that is going to get us to the right spot. I think that's probably the biggest thing is that, you know, CEO or any other role, you're not one person; you're not in it yourself. It's the team. And I think that, for me, is the most important thing is assembling the right team with a diverse set of skills and perspectives and backgrounds that I really believe can solve any problem. Not that any one of us can do it on our own — but the power of what the team can do together.

How are you guiding the company in such a competitive field?

Two things I would say. One is that we have a maniacal focus on our customer and really defining who that customer is. And so for us at Bose we think about our core customer, not in terms of demographics, but our customer is a music lover.

If you love music, you should want to be part of the Bose family. And the reason for that is that's all we do, right? For us, sound is not an accessory. It's not something else we do in addition. It is the thing that we do, and that allows us to bring a different level of focus and attention to the customer and their pain points and what they want and need.

I think that that focus on the customer really makes us different. We're a company where music lovers come to work, because they want to be in an environment that is working on something related to what they love. And so we've got music lovers making products for music lovers. And that focus on the customer, I think, is the most important thing that allows us to differentiate and create experiences that are unique and that really wow that customer.

When you talked about you're in the car, on the go, music lovers, what's the biggest area of growth for the company? Because those are all a little bit different.

We actually see growth across the board. So we talked about consumer audio as our focus, as you said, in the home, in the car, and on-the-go. And all three of those spaces — they're different. And yet it's just reflecting that people really care about their music in those spaces. We're continuing to see nice growth across the board.

It ebbs and flows in different areas. So, for example, during COVID when we all nested, we saw a lot more of our in-the-home products being incredibly popular. And as we all went back outside and, you know, we're commuting to work again and we're we're traveling for work or for vacation, we see the on-the-go products being really popular because people want that with them in their bag or in their pocket. It's part of what you bring with you when you venture out into the real world. And so it ebbs and flows. But, at the core, consumers really appreciate premium sound and premium audio and so we continue to see a lot of strength than in all of our markets.

What's the biggest request you're hearing from customers or potential customers?

I'll put it in the context of the launches that we have this week. We're launching new products in our iconic Quiet Comfort headphone line. You know what customers expect from us — and they should — for Quiet Comfort is unparalleled noise cancellation, the best noise cancellation. You can get great audio, comfortable fit — something that you feel like you can wear for hours at a time and not remember that you're wearing them. They feel really natural. So those are all things that they expect, and, of course, it's great design. The headphones that you're wearing — you have to feel like the style of them matches what you want to wear. And we've added this new feature around immersive audio.

When you think of a traditional headphone, when you hear the music you really hear it inside your head, the feeling as you're hearing it inside. With immersive audio from Bose, what's happening is we're bringing that audio and moving it out into space around you. So instead of inside your head, you hear it as if it's coming from two speakers kind of out in front of you. Feels more like you're sitting in a room in the perfect spot between two really great speakers, which is just a more immersive and lifelike experience. We think that's something — this idea of immersive sound is something that we know customers are really looking for.

It's continuing to level up that experience of how the audio comes through. We can create that experience with content from any device and from any source. And so it doesn't have to be a certain type of coded content, or a certain source. Any content that you want to enjoy you can enjoy in this immersive mode. It's amazing. It's now that I've been trialing it for the last few months. It's the only way I want to listen to my music.

This is an industry where female engineers are far outnumbered by their male counterparts. How are you aiming to fix that imbalance?

We have a lot of really amazing female engineers, and that's exciting. We're also doing things on the other side. We have a campaign we call Turn the Dial, where we see music producers — which is also a very technical role — that less than 3% of Top 100 hits in 2022 were produced by women. And that's crazy, right?

We need a diverse group of people producing music so that all of us can enjoy it. And so we like to continue to support initiatives like Turn the Dial so that we're continuing to drive toward more girls — more women interested in STEM, interested in going into engineering — so that we can continue to foster more engineers on the production side and certainly more engineers that are creating our products, too.

What's your biggest failure or thing you wish you did differently?

That's a hard question. I think the thing that has probably been the most challenging over the last few years is some of the supply-chain challenges that came. Looking back, I think how quickly we responded. What would we have done differently? There's nothing more frustrating than knowing that consumers want your products and you can't get them there. And I think we lived through a period of that where chips components were in short supply, ocean freight — all of the freight — was taking far longer, was hard to get into the ports. And so looking back and thinking about what could we have done differently to make sure we were getting the products that our customers wanted in their hands. I think that's probably been the most frustrating.

What's the biggest change or thing you're most proud of that you instituted as CEO?

This is a good question, too. I think I'm really proud of the speed at which we're moving at Bose. And so one of the things that is so evident is when you go to Bose and you meet the team, there's just an amazing amount of research and invention that's happening. And it felt like it was taking too long for that to get into the hands of our customers. One of the things that I'm really proud of the team isthat new processes, new ways of thinking — we're really starting to get innovation to come out of those faster than we have in the past and you see that with this week's launch.

We are launching a new pair of earbuds this week. We launched earbuds just a year ago. So being able to take really amazing products — last year the QuietComfort Earbuds II — and then launching another one this year, which builds on that and makes those even greater through this immersive audio technology, along with a few other things, that's really exciting to see.

I think you're gonna see more of that from us where technology and innovation is coming faster from Bose. And that's a lot of fun for people who find great joy in creating something. There's nothing better than getting it into the hands of a customer and so if we're able to do that more often and more quickly, it makes our jobs really fun.

What's your favorite Bose product?

My favorite Bose product hasn't been launched yet, so stay tuned. I love the earbuds. But I love the convenience and the size and the ability to just stick them in my pocket and go and always have that music with me. So I'm a big fan of earbuds. I also love the sound system in my car. So it's probably a trade-off between those two.