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Marking Gary Shapiro’s 30 Years At CEA

Last week Randy Fry, president of Fry’s Electronics and chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), sent out an email to the organization’s staff congratulating one employee for marking his 30th anniversary — Gary Shapiro, president/CEO of CEA.

I emailed Gary last week to congratulate him, but I also wrote, “Is that even possible?” The reason for my reaction is this: Can it really be 30 years?

I first interviewed Gary on the phone in his role as general counsel for the precursor of CEA — the Electronics Industry Association/Consumer Electronics Group (EIA/CEG) — back in the mid-1980s.

Shapiro began working on CE issues before he became an employee of EIA/CEG. The organization was a client of J. Edward Day law firm, of which he was a member, and began working on the landmark Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios case, which established that consumers taping TV shows with VCRs for the purposes of time-shifting is not copyright infringement, but fair use.

He did such a great job that by 1982 Shapiro was hired as general counsel by then-head of EIA/CEG, the legendary Jack Wayman.

That same year, in January, I attended my first CES for a toy magazine to write about the Atari 2600, Commodore VIC 20 and the like. That first visit to Winter CES is what I consider to be my entry in covering the CE industry.

A few years later Gary was selected to head what became CEA, and I found myself in Miami attending the same two events at the same time: the NATM Buying Group meeting and the old International Tape/Disc Association show. We traveled together between both venues, with me to cover the events and Gary doing what he has always done —promoting the work of the CE industry and CEA.

Since those early days Gary has led CEA from the analog to the digital era, promoting the CE industry in a myriad of ways, such as the development and acceptance of HDTV, pushing for more broadband connections in the U.S., and as Fry put it in his email, supporting products that “leverage the power of the Internet to eliminate the barriers of time and space and give consumers unprecedented access to information and content.”

Gary also opened up CEA membership, once a manufacturer-only group, to retailers, distributors, content providers and other key groups that contribute to the industry. International CES has also opened up its tent the same way under his watch, making the annual show in Las Vegas a world media event. Government leaders from both here and abroad — and top executives from the many industries that contribute to the development of today’s technology world — consider a visit to CES in January a must every year.

Those are just a few of a hell of a lot of accomplishments. So I echo what Fry wrote last week: “Please join me in congratulating Gary on 30 years at CEA. Here’s to the next 30!”