John Penn and his wife Heather – who scooped the Outstanding Contribution accolade at TPi Awards 2018 – founded SSE back in 1976. From a first gig in a school theatre in Merseyside, the couple went on to build up the largest PA hire sales and systems integration business in the UK.
With retirement in mind, John, Heather and the rest of the SSE Audio Group board successfully negotiated the acquisition of the business by Solotech in 2018. With the future of the business secured, Heather was the first to retire last December (2020). Now John has decided that the time is right to enjoy life away from work and he officially retired at the end of April.
In normal times there would have been a big send off, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting the whole industry, his official retirement was a more low key affair. Recently, John and Heather visited the company’s Redditch headquarters for a presentation, which was broadcast via Zoom to staff across the country.
John was presented with a Shure microphone that had been integrated into a metal sculpture of the Death Star by Sigma Fabrication’s Andi Appleby. Star Wars has been a constant theme at SSE, with even the main company database software named Yoda! John and Heather also unveiled a commemorative plaque celebrating their 45 years as pioneers of the audio industry.
John Penn released a statement of reflection, which reads as follows [sic]:
“When the business started, run from the garage with a Transit van and a Wem Audiomaster, I never dreamt any of what we have achieved could be possible. For 45 years we have innovated and invented, often out of necessity, sometimes by accident and I think we can say we have helped to shape the whole UK live events industry. We encouraged a culture that relished the challenge to be better, with an attitude that said anything is possible, we just needed to figure out how.
“Like any business there have been lows and stresses. But alongside that, and at the very heart of it, has been the people. The friendships, humour and comradeship forged in the heat of our battles have been quite amazing. I can be a tough taskmaster and many have been on the wrong end of a JP rant! But this was because I cared so much and near enough wasn’t good enough.
“Many of those who received my toughest of lectures, became my strongest supporters, which says a lot. Over the years I‘ve been told on numerous occasions by former staff that working here was “the best job I ever had”. I think this says a great deal about our culture and is something I take a lot of pride in.
“With Alex Penn and Spencer Beard at the head of the UK operation, the ongoing leadership is in excellent hands. I have total faith and trust in their abilities as the company moves forward.
“It just remains for me to sign off by saying a heartfelt thank you – to everyone – who has shared and contributed to this roller coaster ride with me. None of this would have been possible without you. I wish each and every one of you health, happiness and success for the future. Rest assured you’ll still be seeing me around!”