Harman International Industries Inc has become a successful audio equipment company through acquiring promising smaller hi-fi companies, such as Infinity Systems Inc and JBL Inc. Co-founder and CEO Sidney Harman foresees continued opportunities for the company, which is one of only two large consumer electronics manufacturers to remain US-owned. Harman International's latest strategy is to focus on user-friendly product features. Management of subsidiary Infinity under Hank Suerth is also described.
WASHINGTON--Forty years ago Sidney Harman was just getting started in the hi-fi business. Now he's starting out again.
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A founder of Harman kardon Inc. in 1952, he was one of a tiny group of men who established the U.S. hi-fi industry. Today as chairman and chief executive of Harman International Industries INc., he heads a globsal enterprise with annual sales headed towards $1 billion.
But despite the growth of the past, Harman said he forcesees new opportunies for the company in its continuing roles as he-fi supplier to U.S. retailers. This due to factors that are affecting its major compeitors in Japanm as well as strengths within the company itself.
As a result of the strong yen and Japan's economics difficulties, manufacturers in that country don't have the competitive pricing strengths that they had in the past, he believed. Meanwhile, harman International has undergone changes that Harman feels are providing strengths for the present as well as for the future.
"I think the next 10 years is the decade for our company," said Harman, 75, "and I intend to be fully engaged."
Under Harman's leadership, Harman International--beginning with the purchase of JBL back in 1969--has gathered through acquisition a group of orginally small but promising audio companies. It has nurtured them with technology, with capital and with its own marketing capabilities.
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As a result, the corporation now presides over a group of bands which have been shaply honed to effectively penetrate certain parts of the consumer electronics industry, as well as certain commercial and industrial sectors.
Tom Jacoby, president of the consumer group, which accounted for 41 percent of the company's sales of $665 million for the year ended June 30, an operation which includes JBL consumer speakers; Infinity, a speaker company specializing in products at a somewhat higher price level, and Harman Kardon, an electronics audio manufacturer and the original company from which Harman International sprouted.
In addition to Harman Kardon and JBL in the consumer group is Pyle, a car speaker manufacturer; Fosgate, signal processors for home theater, and Audio Access, a maker of switching devices for amplifiers. Also in the group is Concord, a supplier of amps and loudspeakers.
Infinity, the loudspeaker company, is an example of how a tiny firm can mature into a sizable business under Harman International's ownership. Purchased eight year ago, the company is now third among U.S. owned speaker manufacturer after Bose and after JBL, according to Hank Suerth, division president. Harman International's acquisitions are also aimed at penetrating new market segments.
For example, the company recently purchased a minority interest in Madrigal Audio Laboratories makers of Mark Levinson brand high-end hi-fi components which are recognized for innovative engineering. Harman said the company has an option to purchase a majority interest and has plans to do so.
The goal is to become involved in the most sophisticated level of the hi-fi industry and to make use of the technologies that are likely to flow between the Harman and Madrigal.
Harman International is as much a state of mind as it is a collection of brand names, buildings, equipment and people. Harman himself said he believes that because of these ideas, the company has been able to withstand the onslaught of competition from Asia since the 1960s. He feels that ideas hold the key to what he is convinced will be an impressive future.
The company is acknowledge to be the only large consumer electronics manufacturer besides Zenith that has been able to survive as an American-owned company. Gone from U.S. ownership are RCA, Magnavox, Sylvania, Philco-Ford and General Electric consumer electronics to mention a few of the more prominent names.
Totally gone from the scene as consumer electronic audio-video brands are Admiral, Westinghouse and Motorola.
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Harman said he believed that certain important ideas hold the key to the company's future. Some of these ideas are opposed to philosophies that have influenced the thinking of much of U.S. industry during the past two generations.
In the 1930s Alfred Sloan, then chairman of General Motors, made what became a oft-repeated remark to a group of executives. "You're not in the business of making autos," he said. "You're in the business of making money."
As far Harman is concerned, the industrial executive who honors the manufacturing process h