The term “larger than life” is used so often that its meaning is easily lost. But for a great many JVC employees through the seventies, eighties and into the nineties, Harry Elias, who passed away on November 12, was indeed larger than life. In fact, I’d argue that he was a larger than life figure for the entire consumer electronics industry during that time.
Those were the years when JVC rose to become a major CE brand in the U.S., and to say that Harry was instrumental to that growth is an understatement. From VHS to the debut of the camcorder through the heyday of component audio, Harry presided over it all.
Harry had a passion for the brand, and as someone who worked with him for 14 of his 37 years with JVC, I had a close up view of that passion each and every day. Ask anybody who worked with Harry – JVC employee or retail partner – and the one word that comes up is “relationships.” Harry’s key contribution was the dealer network he created and nurtured. It’s what allowed JVC to thrive, and it was built on Harry’s ability to develop solid and successful relationships with key dealers across the country. He had an innate understanding of merchandising, and it was that retail savvy combined with his ability to truly connect with people that put JVC front and center at the country’s leading retailers and made it a major brand.
When I first met Harry in the mid-eighties my initial impression was that he didn’t look like a typical businessperson. With his thick wavy hair and large eyeglasses, I couldn’t help but think that he reminded me of Elvis Presley. But while there wasn’t an actual resemblance, I soon realized that Harry was in fact an icon in the industry. What today some might call a “rock star”. So maybe the Presley comparison wasn’t that far off.
Younger buyers certainly considered him a legend and were always eager to meet him, whether during one of Harry’s visits to the field, at dealer events or at any of the countless Consumer Electronics Shows Harry attended over the years. He’d endear himself to each with his greeting of, “Hey, kid,” which of course is how he referred to nearly everybody, regardless of their age.
And Harry was always full of surprises. One day he called me into his office and asked that I compose a letter that he needed to send. I thought it was odd that Harry, an American, was asking me, a Japanese employee who had hardly mastered English, to write it. I asked, and he explained that it was a test. I wrote the letter, submitted it, and his response after looking it over was, of course, “Not bad, kid!”
Harry more than any other single individual established the JVC brand in the United States through a combination of his business instincts and personal charisma. He was an industry star, and rightly a member of the Consumer Technology Hall of Fame. All who knew him, especially the hundreds of members of the extended JVC family worldwide who worked with him during his 37 years with the company, will miss him dearly.