Audio Pro International editor Daniel Gumble catches up with Harman executive vice president Blake Augsburger to discuss the company’s vision for the next 12 months and its desire to remain at the forefront of the industry’s continuing technological advancements.
As one of nine members of its corporate executive board, Harman’s Blake Augsburger plays a pivotal role in both the development of new technology within the corporation, as well as the geographical expansion of the company into the world’s emerging markets. With a reputation as one of the industry’s leading technology innovators, not to mention the ever-increasing global presence of the Harman brand, the task of maintaining such a status is certainly a challenging one, especially in light of the ever-precarious economic climate. However, Augsburger believes that it is the Harman approach to the world’s emerging markets that has served the company so well in recent times.
“Our strategy in emerging markets has been to deploy local sales offices populated with the right mix of Harman and local market executives so that we can learn the unique characteristics that make each market tick and based on this intelligence, develop the right programmes, products and systems to address the needs of each market,” he explains. “This approach has resulted in a successful line of KTV product built exclusively for the Asia market and new portable PA product for Brazil’s ‘sound truck’ market.
“In doing so, we’re becoming local market competitors — essentially capitalising on the global efficiencies and resources but providing designs and solutions specifically to address the unique opportunities and requirements of each region,” he continues. “The strategy has been successful in Asia and South America. We’ve won a lot of business in these regions and now we’re deploying this strategy in India with the appointment of a new operations director for the subcontinent.
“In addition to the emerging market strategy, Harman Professional is also broadening our reach into new target markets including transportation, hospitality, and education that have especially high potential in the emerging markets where a lot of investment is currently taking place.”Article continues below
This undoubtedly appears to be a thoroughly tried and tested approach, as Harman was also able to achieve significant success throughout 2011; a year which saw a number of brands, not to mention entire industries, blighted by the increasingly unstable global economy. Augsburger comments: “We did very well last year. In fact, we just announced our ninth consecutive quarter of year-over-year improvement; all divisions posted higher sales and operating margins.
“Furthermore, our investment in regional sales offices enabled us to be more proactive, to have a deeper understanding of market needs, to support the engineered sound projects more comprehensively and provide channel partners with the information and the systems they need to win more business.
“What I am especially pleased about is that we’ve achieved this growth across all of the markets we serve — from Studer winning big broadcast contracts; to AKG gaining share in the conferencing sector to Harman systems featuring Crown, BSS and JBL winning big in the fixed install business.
“Looking forward, I see great potential for IDX in the transportation and hospitality business as governments in emerging economies invest in new infrastructure to drive growth.”
In addition to the company’s commitment to emerging markets, Harman continues to embrace the industry’s technological advancements, particularly with regards to the growing use and incorporation of tablets and smart phones into the world of pro audio. “It’s important to note that because Harman operates in consumer, automotive and professional AV, we can capitalise on innovations in a host of markets,” states Augsburger. “Harman’s annual investment in R&D therefore can be larger than the annual sales of some of our competitors. This R&D commitment is applied across transducer design, as evidenced by the amazing new JBL D2 driver; amplifier technology as seen with Crown’s DriveCore chip; connectivity as demonstrated with our leadership in AVB and also system configuration and interaction via the ground-breaking tablet-controlled JBL HiQnet Performance Manager and also the fact that six of the Harman Professional brands have at least one functional (not promotional) iPad app.
“I am extremely proud of the culture of innovation that is pervasive at Harman Professional and I am especially proud of the fact that we’ve engendered it in our new emerging markets R&D centres in Shenzhen and Bangalore and now our global community of Harman Professional is benefiting from the new ideas, processes and technologies coming from the people running those facilities.”
This method of embracing new ideas and innovations appears to have already yielded notable results for the first part of 2012, with the company enjoying hugely successful shows at both ISE and NAMM. Augsburger elaborates: “At NAMM we had 20 new product introductions, our stand was packed throughout and we were writing business from the moment the show opened. People now expect that Harman will have some true innovations on the stand and they also know that we can integrate components better than anyone at a NAMM show — or an ISE show for that matter. At NAMM and ISE I saw dealers and channel partners coming to our stand with high expectations looking for exciting technologies that they could take back to their customers.”
So, with the early trade shows done and dusted, what can we expect from Harman throughout the rest of the year? “Beyond what we have introduced already this year, you’ll see new innovations at NAB and InfoComm in the first half alone,” says Augsburger. “I expect to have an equally strong lineup in the second half of the calendar year.
“Innovation is what drives growth and our goal at HARMAN Professional is to advance the core components, to be on the bleeding edge of system design and connectivity and deploy our innovation leadership in geographically sensitive ways so that we develop innovative, accessible technologies and systems for every market.”
Bearing in mind Harman’s consistently high product output, it is little surprise that Augsburger is as driven as ever to maximise the level of cross-brand collaboration among the Harman brands. “This is central to our being,” he states. “Since I have been in this role one of my key initiatives has been to make each brand the mark of excellence at the component level but also to capitalise on our portfolio to enable a much deeper level of system integration by having the brands work closer together.
“The end-product has been powered speakers featuring Crown and JBL technologies; dbx processors with built-in JBL presets; Studer consoles with Lexicon plug-ins; Crown amplifiers with BSS crossovers and IDX with JBL, AKG, Crown and BSS components but most tellingly JBL HiQnet Performance Manager and HiQnet Band Manager can serve as windows for system design, setup and maintenance.”
He concludes: “As we continue our growth strategy for the year ahead, cross-brand collaboration — while still maintaining the identity and values of each brand — will be an important element of our product development and marketing initiatives.”