Major changes were announced at Dolby. Ray Dolby stepped down as Chairman, with investor Peter Gotcher stepping up to the role. CEO Bill Jasper, who began as company treasurer in 1979, announced his retirement, with CFO Kevin Yeaman, who joined in 2005, taking over as CEO. Both Ray and Bill will remain on the board of directors. Two new board members were also announced, as was the exit of EVPs Tim Partridge and Marty Jaffe.
These changes could be significant to Dolby’s future efforts in cinema. Dolby’s cinema program was conceived and led by Ioan Allen in the mid-70’s, prior to Bill Jasper’s arrival to the company. Even though it took nearly a decade to achieve status as a profit center, Ray Dolby strongly backed the program after the co-branding effect of placing the Dolby name on cinema marquees demonstrated a boost in cassette deck sales, leading to an increase in licensing revenue. The benefit of the cinema division continued in the 90’s. While waiting for the DVD to gain popularity with consumers, Bill noted that strong cinema sales were propping up revenues. However, under Tim Partridge, the company stumbled with digital cinema, allowing the unknown and much smaller Doremi to gain nearly 200x the sales in digital cinema servers.
The new leadership changes are a sign of an inevitable break from the past. Ray recently turned 76. His resignation of the Chairman role is an indicator of decreased involvement in company activity. Bill Jasper’s retirement also removes 30 years of history from company leadership. With cinema sales today playing a much smaller role in the company’s revenue stream, and now with stockholders to report to, we should expect more focus on consumer technology licensing and less development in cinema.