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JBL putting the customer first says new VP Bryan Bradley

Bryan Bradley, the new head of JBL, aims to bring a fresh way of thinking to the Harman Pro business unit from his time in music publishing and retail: start at the top, not the bottom

“When the opportunity came up to get to run such a ‘storied brand’ as JBL, I jumped at the chance,” said Bryan Bradley of his appointment as vice president, general manager of Harman Professional’s Loudspeaker Business Unit. Less than two months into the job when he spoke to sister title Pro Sound News, Bradley said he and his team have renewed JBL’s “emphasis on the customer”.

About half of the management team at JBL Professional is new to Harman. Prior to being sought out by Harman Pro for his new position, Bradley was COO of publisher Alfred Music for the past four years, which added international business experience to his CV. Previous to Alfred, he held several corporate management and marketing roles at retail giant Guitar Center over a span of eight years. “There were two months between when I accepted the job and when I started, and so, I had a lot of time to talk to a lot of people in the industry,” said Bradley.

“As I used to work for one of JBL’s largest customers I was able to identify some places I thought I could add value and I think really driving towards the customer focus is the right thing to do.” That emphasis includes “making sure the support for the products is there and the support for our partners and distributors is there and focusing on those relationships”. For the customer, which includes the end-user as well as the distribution channel partners, that plays out in increased dialogue starting earlier in product development cycles. “We’re actually getting our customers’ feedback and involvement in everything from product development and design to launch strategy and tactics,” Bradley elaborated.

“At the end of the day, JBL has phenomenal technology and engineering talent. One of the areas I think we can strengthen is working with our partners to say, ‘Let’s talk about what we should make. What does the market really need? Where should we focus our resources?’ We can’t be everything to all people so we really want to involve our partners to help us focus our resources.”
JBL Professional is fortifying its beta-testing programs, especially in the tour sound market, says Bradley. “For example, in tour sound, we have a new product in the pipeline and we’re going to do a two-month beta test period with a couple of our customers to let them take it out for a few shows, kick the tires and come back and say, ‘This is what we found, you should think about doing this.’ That allows us to make modifications and changes instead of just saying ‘Here’s the product, here’s what it is, now you can buy it.’
JBL Professional unveiled its new flagship studio monitor system, the M2, at NAMM. “There are eight patents or patent-pending technologies in that product,” said Bradley. “It really is a game-changer. Not only for what it does, but for the price point it lives at.”
The M2 is indicative of a larger philosophy, according to Bradley. “We’re focused on fortifying our position as the maker of the best-sounding loudspeakers in the business, from studio to cinema to installed sound,” he elaborates. From now, he says, JBL will start by designing the best possible product, before exploring ways to simplify the technology to make it more accessible at lower price points – rather at the budget end and adding features later. It’s not unlike what sister company Soundcraft is doing with its Si platform.
The process, says Bradley, is “real science. It isn’t, ‘Let’s just smack this feature on this product, do it as cheap as possible and move on.’”
That philosophy spills over into each of the vertical markets JBL serves, Bradley says. “We are quickly pushing towards getting the few remaining products needed to fill out the VTX line into the market in the next six months. Most houses that have gone with VTX have really loved it and it’s a very versatile product.”
But that’s just one example, according to Bradley. “You’re going to see a lot of revamped products with some of the new technologies that are being created here. You’re going to see a very aggressive product release schedule from JBL over the next 18 months.”
JBL is not isolated within the larger corporation; Bradley cited the co-operation between the Harman Professional brands as an advantage for JBL. Along with the availability of engineering expertise in power amplification from Crown, processing from dbx and BSS, the recent acquisition of lighting company Martin Professional provides a “case in point” for Harman’s commitment for providing “the best system possible to all of our customers”. “There’s a lot of opportunity for us to do some amazing things because we’ve got great partners, we’ve got great people here,” Bradley concluded. “I wasn’t hired for a turnaround. I was brought in to help make it even better. And that’s what I’m trying to do. My phrase as I see what’s going on around here is ‘My flabbers are gasted.’ I’m just working on how to communicate that to the world.”