View From The Top: Engineering Evolution - Blake Augsburger, Executive VP/President, Harman Professional Solutions

Blake Augsburger joined the pro audio industry in 2000, when HARMAN acquired Crown Audio, “and recruited me to lead the business and turn it around,” he recalls.
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Blake Augsburger Blake Augsburger joined the pro audio industry in 2000, when HARMAN acquired Crown Audio, “and recruited me to lead the business and turn it around,” he recalls. “In 2006, I was appointed to lead the HARMAN Professional Solutions division. Since then, I’ve added new businesses to the portfolio and taken on additional roles within HARMAN, such as joining the executive committee and becoming Country Manager for the Americas.”

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Augsburger began his career as an electrical engineer, graduating from Texas Tech University and working in the defense industry for Maxwell Technologies, a company largely focused on energy storage and power delivery solutions. “I migrated into program management and business unit management at Maxwell, and then joined Hubbell Electronics as vice president/GM of the High Voltage Test SBU in the United States, Switzerland and the UK. My engineering background has been important because that’s what we do here at HARMAN Professional Solutions—engineer innovative, differentiated technology solutions—and the international experience has been important, because globalization has been a huge determining force in our business and economy in recent decades.”

A lot has changed at HARMAN in the last 15 years, offers Augsburger. “We have evolved from an audio component manufacturer to a sound systems manufacturer to a complete system solutions provider—including audio, lighting, video and control—with a global, customer-centric organization. Our most recent major change was aimed at centralizing internal functions, like R&D, to take advantage of our scale, and organizing our customer-facing functions around the markets they serve to make it easier for them and allow us to really focus on solutions and customer needs.”

Three Strategic Business Units (SBUs)—Enterprise, Entertainment and Product—comprise the company structure at HARMAN. In addition, a shared services group supports the SBUs with Finance, IT, HR and Marketing Communications. Each SBU and shared service function is led by experienced leaders, explains Augsburger in detail. “The Entertainment and Enterprise SBUs are broken down into Customer Solutions Units (CSUs). The CSUs are dedicated teams with a simple, yet powerful, mandate: Provide customers in vertical markets with greater market expertise and market-specialized solutions. Our CSUs are empowered with the resources required to deliver on that mandate.”

“The Entertainment SBU, led by Bryan Bradley, is made up of two CSUs: Retail, led by Scott Robbins, and Touring & Cinema, led by Brian Divine,” continues Augsburger. “Our Enterprise SBU, led by Kevin Morrison, is made up of three CSUs: Hospitality, led by David McKinney; Large Venues, led by Jaime Albors; and Corporate, Education and Government, led by Kevin Bowyer.”

Augsburger feels that HARMAN Professional Solutions’ customer-centric organizational model will make it much easier for customers to do business with him and his colleagues. “There will be a single point of access and accountability with specialized teams, technologies and programs for each vertical market,” he offers. “And, because they’re customer-centric versus brand- or technology-centric teams, they will have a better understanding of the customer usecase today and clearer insights as to where markets are headed tomorrow. At the same time, we don’t intend to miss a beat on product innovation. Our new Product SBU, led by Mark Ureda, combines our expert technical talent and deep R&D investments across the organization to deliver groundbreaking technologies, products and, most importantly, customer solutions.”

In his time leading HARMAN Professional Solutions, Augsburger and his team have grown the business considerably. “With the acquisitions of Selenium, Martin Professional, Duran Audio, AMX, SM Pro Audio and SVSI, 3,600 new people have joined the organization, and we’ve become a $1 billion business,” he offers with pride. “It’s only natural that our culture would evolve in this time, but I think restructuring into a customer-centric organization is a formalization of a longstanding cultural commitment that was common to HARMAN and all of the acquired brands.”

Most notable, a booming touring industry has helped growth at HARMAN. “In the first half of 2015 alone, North America concert sales hit a record of 18.8 million tickets, up 23 percent from 2013,” offers Augsburger. “Thankfully, we’ve had the right array of products with JBL VTX V25 II and Crown I-Tech HD to serve the growth and capitalize on the opportunity.”

Elsewhere, growth opportunities abound, most notably in the installed audio systems market. “Addressing the convergence of AV and IT in installed systems has led to better connectivity, broader interoperability and more inclusive solutions,” tells Augsburger. “With this convergence, software and firmware innovations have enabled companies like ours to develop integrated systems tailored to specific verticals, such as education, hospitality and others. Aligning our organization to customer markets enables us to provide technology expertise coupled with deeper market expertise.”

While Augsburger notes that retail is a challenging yet dynamic marketplace, he also suggests it continues to have strong potential over the next few years. “I joined the board of NAMM in 2014 and doing so provided me with the opportunity to work with retailers of all sizes in all North American markets,” he explains. “Meeting and listening to the people who run these businesses gives me confidence that there is considerable room for growth in MI. HARMAN Professional Solutions’ goal is to address the opportunity with a higher rate of new products that work better together, are more affordable and are easier to operate.”

In dealing with competitors, Augsburger explains that no other firm can provide the range of services that HARMAN Professional Solutions does for its customer base. “I respect our competitors,” begins Augsburger on the subject. “Our industry attracts great people. But when I look at the array of talent within our ranks, I am very encouraged. We have phenomenal engineers, managers and sales teams. Our new organization is the stage on which this talent will shine, and we will continue to grow as a result.”

In the near future, Augsburger says that HARMAN will unveil powerful native systems to “reset the rules of systems integration, tour sound and broadcast,” providing “a massive efficiency boost” to audio pros. “What we’re working toward today is responding to our customers’ interests in natively integrated configuration, monitoring and control functionality. The scale of our global organization equips us to now provide a linear progression of good-better- best solutions, from small fixed-analog solutions to medium-scale digital solutions to enterprise-grade, open-architecture solutions. I expect you will see a lot more new products from HARMAN Professional Solutions in each category in the weeks and months ahead.”

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