Reinhard Penzel: This was a decision to do something I loved

Interview with founder and CEO at Live-production.tv Reinhard Penzel and his wife, Head of Media Sales at Musik Media Verlag Angelika Müller.

Reinhard, what kind of family were you born into, and who are your parents?
R.P.: My family was living in a German-speaking area in Czechoslovakia called Sudetenland. After the Second World War, they had to leave Czechoslovakia, and they met again in the South of Germany close to Heidelberg and married directly after the war.

What did your parents do?
R.P.: My father was a clock repairer. First, when he was back from the war, he was repairing all the church clocks. This is how things started after the war. My mother was a housewife, but she was quite good at school. My parents then did some business with clocks – not only repairing them but also selling them.

Were you the only child in your family?
R.P.: No, I had a younger brother, two years younger. We were living in Bad Rappenau which was a nice village.

Did you work with your father? Did he bring you with him to his job?
R.P.: No, I was not at all interested in making and repairing clocks. I was going to school, but I was not very good at it. We then moved from Bad Rappenau to Hannover, which was quite a big city. This was because my father changed from being a clockmaker to selling clocks in larger numbers, and they took him there as a salesperson to sell clocks in this jewelry shop.

Can you tell us more about your school life?
R.P.: Being in the first grade of school in Hannover I was able to go to the gymnasium, and the gymnasium was very hard for me. I did not succeed in everything, especially with Latin. I was also not quite good enough at speaking German. When my father could become the manager of a clock and jewelry shop in Cologne we moved to Cologne, though, I changed to a lower grade school. There I had a better time because I could understand everything. I was successful in managing this middle kind of schooling.
Then, with this, I did some practicum — some learning for television things with Deutsche Telecom. They also were able to finance the first steps of my engineering studies at the engineering school in Cologne. And this is where I started to become more interested in television. I joined a magazine in Germany which did some training for people interested in television.

Can you tell us more about your favorite subjects? What were you especially good at in school?
R.P.: Then, I was especially good at sports and some history. But I was not at all good at mathematics. I also had some English lessons, and my English at that time maybe was even better than now.

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In which year were you born?
R.P.: 1948.

Am I right in saying that Germany was in a difficult position when you were a child? Because Cologne was destroyed at that time.
R.P.: Cologne was already rebuilt by the time we moved there. The real hard time was in the little village of Bad Rappenau before we moved to Hannover and then to Cologne.

Why did you choose to study engineering?
R.P.: Because I was interested in engineering and was not good in all these other subjects like philosophy. It was not as much to do with mechanical work as my father did with the clocks. It was just fascinating, sitting in front of the radio and hearing a voice coming out of it. This was the first push, I believed in “magic” technology from the very beginning.

Did you work parallel to your studies, or did you only attend university?
R.P.: I was playing handball at that time.

What came after you finished engineering school?
R.P.: I did not finish it, I stopped two years before the end because I was lazy. I was thinking about going to India, and things like that, so there was no longer really any part of my brain that was thinking about my career. And I went to India, we were traveling from Bombay up to Nepal, for more than half a year. We did some filming work at that time, so I got some impression of the world outside of Germany, and this was quite a good experience.

Were you in the army?
R.P.: After school, yes. I finished school when I was 18, and the military was coming up. It took two years before I decided to leave the military. I told them I would no longer like to stay in the army – at that time it was possible to leave the army in Germany, you had to explain why in front of the committee. So, I left the army two years after, also without finishing. So, I always had things that I did not finish.

What happened after your return from Nepal?
R.P.: Then, I was looking to find a lady who was happy to be with me, and this was something that happened after I came back from India. Then, a child was underway, and I needed to really decide to find a job that earns me some money. I went to the German job agency, and they offered me a lot of jobs in the insurance sector. There was one job where I could sell hardware refrigerating systems for supermarkets, cooling systems that keep things fresh. It was with the company “Linde” This is where I then got a job, and I sold cooling systems for supermarkets
Nevertheless, after six years of selling cooling systems, I still was thinking about doing something with television. At that time the company “3M” was looking for people to sell Character generators. So, I went to “3M”, and I became a salesman for character generators and audio systems.

After that, how did your career develop? What happened after this?
R.P.: I had a colleague at 3M, he went to Sony. When he was at Sony, he gave me a tip that they were looking to find more people. I tried to get a job there, and they took me as a salesman for the Bulgarian area, so I was responsible for Bulgaria and Austria. At that time, Bulgaria was trying to get the Olympics to Sofia, but they ended up going to Norway. But Sofia got the swimming championships, and I was able to sell Sony Plumbicon cameras to the Bulgarian television station. And this is where it really started, and Sony said: “Oh, this Penzel guy can do more than talk big, he can also sell.” So, this was the beginning.

How long did you work in Sony?
R.P.: I started there in 1985, and I left Sony in 2006. So this was 21 years with Sony. After being the salesman for Bulgaria and Austria, I became the sales manager for Germany. I finally also became the sales and marketing boss for Germany. It was the time when we introduced the Digital Betacam Format Sony moved the television world from analogue to digital and this were quite successful years.
Finally, Sony offered me a job in England, in Basingstoke where I became the General Manager responsible for the sales of Sony solutions in Europe this included the sales of OBVans – this is where I really had the biggest success with selling the first High Definition OBVans, including the ones FIFA needed to cover the World Championships in Germany 2006in High Definition.

Can you name the most challenging and most interesting projects during your career in Sony?
R.P.: Selling cameras to Bulgaria was definitely challenging because there I was really on my own. I was far away from everyone’s real support because Bulgaria was quite a poor country at that time, and they only got the money together by selling some agricultural goods to Eastern Germany. It was trading of things like potatoes against television cameras, so that was really challenging. All the rest was then quite nice because the Sony products were recognized as best-of-breed.
We of course supported the FIFA World Championships 1998 in France at that time. There were also the Football Championships in Germany in 2006, but this was already at the end of my career, because I was born in 1948, so I was nearly 60 years old, and I had a chance to get out of the business. I then decided to do something depending on my knowledge.
We started the live production publication where we introduced more than 640 OB Trucks all around the world, and this is quite a popular portal for the worldwide active live production community. However, since the Corona pandemic, the community is in very bad shape, because nothing is really happening live. Everything that is happening is happening without spectators and viewers, so the whole industry is suffering. But this is maybe the same in Russia. You have football matches without spectators, right?

Yes, unfortunately. You said you have started to make a live-production. Who is ‘we’?
R.P.: It was a friend of my wife, she’s called Eveline, and she did the selling. The rest was me.

How did you make the decision to establish your business?
R.P.: I was still at an age where I did not want to do anything, and therefore we established the PURE LIVE magazine that was around my favorite products which I was selling for Sony – OBVans. This was a decision to do something which I loved to do, still at an age, where I was not too old. Maybe if I look back from here to that time, I should have decided to do this ten years earlier, then we could have had even more success.

Am I right that you established the magazine and the website?
R.P.: Yes, first we started with the magazine, and then we decided to do it also online.

In what language was the magazine published?
R.P.: In English.

Why English? You are from Germany, why not in German?
R.P.: Yeah, but I was in England for quite a long time – six and a half years. So, I decided to do it in English, because the live production community is speaking English.

You established your business at the age of 58. Were you scared that you would face some difficulties?
R.P.: No, at that time I did not face any difficulties at all. It was quite a successful idea, to go into this very specific area of live production and focus on the OBVan sector. And I then was able to travel the world, to visit the Olympics, and international football championships, and Vancouver for the Winter Olympics and Rio de Janeiro for the FIFA World Cup and to London for the Summer Olympics and much more sports and shoe events like the ESC, Alpine Skiing or Biathlon and Formula 1 races and much more. I also got to travel the world in my business with Sony, where I traveled the whole of Europe or to Japan and to America for the NAB, and other things. I still travel a lot now, but with more time at the various locations, and this is what I enjoy.

Were you afraid to establish your business at the age of 58, because it is quite a considerable age?
R.P.: Why did I decide to still do something at 58? Because I did not feel too old, it was quite interesting for me still to do something and travel around the world. My company paid for the travel, and I could enjoy everything around live production and live events. I really could enjoy all these things, which during my work with Sony I had no time to enjoy because we were only forced to do business – you have a budget, and every year you have to fulfill the budget. And then, with my own company I did not have a budget at all, no one could push me to fulfill the budget, because I did the job anyhow.

Does your magazine still exist, or is it closed? And how long has it been published?
R.P.: The magazine PURE LIVE was published until 2018. IN 2018 suffered from a brain stroke, and after that I decided to no longer publish the magazine and have less work. Because publishing on paper was hard work, harder than publishing online. And we decided after that brain stroke to stop the magazine.

At 70 You continued to publish on the internet. What were your priorities at this point?
R.P.: The priority was always to support the worldwide active live production community. During the job with Sony, I was learning that a lot of people around the world were engaged in this. I knew that they were anxious to find the right information about these OB vans and other things, because they are traveling the world from one job to another, and they could find a job everywhere and get the information of what was inside this OB van. Some of these people really enjoyed having this detailed information.

I noticed that you have great infographics on your website. Who makes them?
R.P.: For the magazine we had a designer who did it.

And now?
R.P.: Now we still have this portal, which was designed 10 years ago, and it’s still ‘alive’ and working. You are the first one to learn this — we will stop our internet portal tomorrow. So, today is the last day where we publishing anything, the portal will stay online until mid-April when it will disappear.

How many employees do you have now in your company? It seems that you are the only person who is working in your company.
R.P.: My wife is also working with me, so here she is.
Angelika Müller: Hello. I am also working for some publications in German-speaking areas for installation and live entertainment. There were four of us, and now there are three of us working for the portal.

Three people – you, your wife, and who else?
R.P.: A student.

It is fantastic that you managed to create an international portal using only three people.
A.M.: Yes, but my husband was working seven days a week, 24 hours a day, because he was really enthusiastic about this community. I mean, if you are working in this community, it is a worldwide network, and everybody is so engaged in live entertainment and sports. It is so inspiring, so you do it or you leave it. After a while, we got a lot of exclusive stories and a lot of interesting contacts. We have been able to make contacts with a really important network for sports and the business behind it – rights management, etc. On my side, with all the years, the different markets (entertainment, lighting designers, etc.) are converging more and more, especially small businesses. So, everything is connecting.

Why did you decide to live in Austria?
A.M.: We are living in Cologne, our office is there. We are traveling a lot, and for family reasons, we have second place here, in Austria, where there is more nature, better air quality and a lot of water and lakes, etc. I mean, it’s a nicer place, and the clients are worldwide, so it doesn’t matter where you are at the moment. And we have a home office – I’ve been working here since last March. I’ve been back to the office in Cologne just three times, and now we are in Austria. It could also be Berlin, or somewhere else.

Do you have children?
R.P.: I have children but with another woman. I have two sons.
A.M.: We have been together for 23 years.

What is the occupation of your sons?
R.P.: My older son is a filmmaker, and he lives in Singapore. And the younger son is a firefighter at the fire brigade at the airport in Munich.

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