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Harman’s Dave Rogers Reflects On Change, Looks Ahead

NEW YORK – The home and portable audio markets have changed over the past few years, and audio suppliers – including Harman — have changed with them.

Dave Rogers has been a part of those changes, coming to Harman in 2010 from Klipsch to become VP/general manager of Harman’s home, multimedia and car audio aftermarket businesses in the Americas. During the summer, Rogers was promoted to the newly created position of VP/general manager of global markets for home, multimedia and aftermarket car.

For Rogers, it has been a busy four years.

This year alone, Harman resuscitated the Infinity brand with the brand’s first major product launch since 2008 and with a fiveyear partnership with rock band Linkin Park. The company also entered into a multiyear marketing and merchandising partnership with the National Basketball Association (NBA), and it lent its audio technology and Harman Kardon brand name to Sprint cellphones that feature high-resolution audio playback.

Last year the company opened its first U.S. experience center — a two-level, 8,500-square-foot location on Madison Avenue in Manhattan — to demonstrate its home, aftermarket car and pro audio products.

The consumer audio brands under his purview include JBL, Infinity, Harman Kardon and AKG.

Rogers recounts some of the latest changes in this Q&A and talks about the company’s next steps.

TWICE: Harman’s consumer brand organization went through major changes starting in 2009-2010. How far have you come, and are the results meeting expectations?

Rogers: It’s interesting that you say this because, while so much has changed in the way we manage our brands, the core intrinsic values have continued to stay the same. We definitely retooled our organization to be more reflective of the changing retail landscape, and we worked closely with our retail and channel partners to support their needs. At the same time, we addressed the importance of e-commerce and took a global approach to product design, engineering, and development.

Our product lines have also evolved. The rise of smartphones and other digital devices as the major way music content is delivered to consumers means that connectivity and mobility are now key components in virtually all of our audio product categories.

This rethinking and retooling is evident in products like the JBL Flip portable speaker, which has been a consistently number one performer in its category, and the new Harman Kardon HD home wireless system that will launch this fall.

From a marketing perspective, we’ve adopted an omnichannel approach and have launched a number of aggressive initiatives to break through the noise. Our goal is to be everywhere conversations about audio are happening. We’ve launched partnerships with great artists, with marquee events like the Grammys, and now we’re entering into the sports marketing arena with our partnership with the NBA.

Our lifestyle-division revenue [consisting of OEM car audio and consumer audio] was up 24 percent at the end of our fiscal year, so while we’re obviously pleased, we certainly don’t plan to rest on our laurels.

TWICE: What are some of the next major steps you plan to take to accelerate sales of the H/K, JBL, Infinity and AKG brands?

Rogers: First and foremost, we will continue our tradition of delivering excellent sound quality across all our products. At the IFA trade fair in Berlin earlier this month, we unveiled a number of new products that got a great reception from our retail partners, so we’re feeling bullish about the upcoming holiday season.

Our relationships with mobile carriers have continued to deliver dividends at retail, and we see more great opportunities to do more with them.

And our relationship with the NBA means we have exclusive licensing rights to create branded products across all our product lines.

TWICE: Harman has partnered with the NBA on consumer products and with Linkin Park for the Infinity brand. What do you expect these partnerships will do for your consumer brands, and do you plan similar partnerships with other sports leagues or entertainers?

Rogers: People get very passionate about their favorite teams, and their favorite bands or artists, and our brands like JBL or Infinity have always been an intimate part of building that passion. We’re fortunate to have very authentic relationships with all of our celebrity endorsees. Many artists know us from our professional heritage. Even with the NBA, our professional audio systems are in over half of the arenas where the league plays. I think for as long as people paint their faces to watch a sporting event, or wear their favorite concert Tshirt for decades, we’ll continue to identify authentic ways to connect our brands to that kind of passion.

TWICE: What are the next steps to take in accelerating sales of Harman’s luxury audio brands?

Rogers: In the luxury space, customers are not looking for black-box products to carry home. Customers need and expect their luxury systems to be complete solutions coupled with comprehensive support and product knowledge.

For the product lines in our Revel, Mark Levinson, Lexicon and JBL Synthesis brands, we work with our channel partners to ensure we deliver innovative product excellence along with deep technical services and support. In our Madison Avenue flagship store, we have an entire floor dedicated to our luxury audio systems, including a full JBL Synthesis 9.4 surround sound home cinema. We work closely with everyone — custom installers, interior designers, whole-home audio architects — to make sure the customer is getting a truly personalized system designed and tuned to their needs.

TWICE: How has the Infinity relaunch gone so far, and what are the next steps?

Rogers: We are fortunate to have a great partnership with Linkin Park, which has breathed some new life into our Infinity brand.

Earlier this year, we launched the Infinity One portable product, and Linkin Park lent their creative input to both the audio and industrial design of the products, right through the testing phase. We also worked an exclusive deal with the Pro Group to launch the revamped Infinity Reference home series through their member retailers.

Then in July, the band was joined by artists such as Slash, Snoop Dogg, Kate Nash and others in our documentary film called The Distortion of Sound, which exposes how technology, including compressed music, has impacted sound, as well as the poor quality audio accessories often used these days.

This summer, Infinity was a sponsor of Linkin Park’s Carnivores concert tour.

It has been a strong and successful collaboration, and we are currently working with them on a major new initiative for the coming year, so stay tuned.