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Friday, Dec 1, 2023


WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter As the chairman of Harman International Industries Inc., Sidney Harman heads one of the world’s most successful loudspeaker and consumer electronics companies. But he was thrust into the spotlight this year not because of his company, but because of his spouse. Harman bankrolled the unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial primary campaign of his wife, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Torrance. Now that the race is over, Sidney Harman is retrenching from his role as “Mr. Jane Harman” and focusing more intently on running the business he co-founded in 1952 in Long Island. Now based in Washington, D.C., Harman Industries has operations in four states and six foreign countries and the largest of those facilities is in Northridge, where a loudspeaker design and engineering plant employs some 1,550 people. The company is best known for its brands of speaker and stereo equipment, including JBL, Harman Kardon and Infinity, which are sold at stereo stores and mass merchandisers across the country. But most of the company’s growth is occurring less visibly, in the form of speakers and components that automobile manufacturers such as Chrysler-Plymouth, Mercedes, BMW and others install in their vehicles. Growth in this area of business is the major reason why Harman International’s year-end sales figure is expected to be about 15 percent above 1997’s $1.47 billion. Harman, who served as deputy secretary of commerce in the Carter administration, plans in November to step down as the company’s chief executive in favor of the company’s President and Chief Operating Officer Bernard Girod. Even with one less title, however, Harman stresses that he intends to keep up full-time duties with the company. Question: Was Jane Harman’s unsuccessful campaign for governor worth the time and money you spent? Answer: My wife ran an honorable and intelligent campaign. She regards it as having been an enormously constructive experience and it was worth it to me because it was worth it to my wife. Q: Did you feel like you were under more scrutiny during the gubernatorial race than in your wife’s previous Congressional campaigns? A: I may have been under a very great deal of scrutiny for all I know, but in a campaign that was sadly notable for the viciousness of the attacks on my wife, you may have noticed that there were none on me. (In May) there was an article in the (Los Angeles) Times that was in one sense a little bit silly. They produced some sort of complaint from several years ago by an interior decorator that was settled for $600. We rented a house in Brentwood and had an issue with a landlord who claims that we messed up his house. They made no attempt at all in that story to determine the credibility of the man who rented us the house. That stuff goes on in politics and you just abide by it, but here’s a long life and a large business, and (the media) found nothing of any consequence. Q: It’s been reported that you spent between $15 million and $20 million on the campaign. What is the correct figure? A: I’m not going to give you the correct figure. It’s somewhere in the range you’ve just suggested. Q: You were the deputy secretary of commerce in 1977 and 1978. Have you considered either running for office or becoming otherwise involved in government? A: I have no such interest. I’ve not been one who felt his life is principally government-engaged. When I did serve in government, the invitation to do so came as a surprise to me. Invited to serve, I thought it was the appropriate thing to do (because) one should serve one’s country. Done, it’s over. Q: In the company’s 1997 annual report, you wrote that digital versatile discs (DVD) and high-definition TV (HDTV) are creating uncertainty in the electronics market. What do you mean by that, and how is it affecting your company? A: Difficulties in resolving technical standards with respect to DVD and HDTV have delayed the development and the sale of the products, and there has been other confusion around the products. That creates uncertainties in the minds of consumers, and tends to soften the consumer market. If people are not buying the products that are related to our products, it’s a negative for us. Q: With the rapid advancements in technology these days, what are some new directions in which your company is heading? A: The automotive business is expanding. We are and will be building more complete systems for the automakers, including music and navigation and communication and security (systems). Then there’s the developing field of computers, where we are producing systems for the major PC makers in the world. For example, every Compaq PC system incorporates JBL audio and there are two other major PC makers that will shortly announce one incorporating Harman Kardon systems and the other incorporating Infinity. . Q: Do you have any plans for retirement? A: No. In November, Bernie Girod, who is presently the president and chief operating officer of the company, will become the chief executive officer. I will continue as the chairman. I intend and expect to stay full-time in that role. He and I have worked in very, very close collaboration. That will not change. I have no thought about retirement. Q: In 1995, Los Angeles city officials were concerned that your company was going to move its Northridge plant when its lease was up that year. Were there and are there problems with doing business in the Valley or Los Angeles? A: We never thought at all seriously about leaving this state or Southern California. We did review our options and would not be responsible business people if we did not do that. But a central consideration in our thinking was the 1,500-odd people who work here. We’re not going to go anywhere that’s a significant inconvenience to them, and largely because of them we determined to stay where we are. I have not seen a significant difference in doing business in Southern California other than that the economy has improved enormously, which makes business circumstances in this area more attractive. Q: Do you have any thoughts on the move for Valley secession? A: I have not. That’s a political question and I think you’re asking the wrong guy. Q: Do people think of you as Mr. Jane Harman? A: I think that may happen. I feel fine about that. She’s a remarkable woman and I’m perfectly comfortable walking a step behind my wife as we appear in any public setting. My comfort with that arises from the fact that I have a full personal and professional life. I think it might be somewhat awkward for someone who didn’t have a full life. Q: What sort of stereo equipment do you listen to at home? A: Not surprisingly, our own. Our music-listening room in Los Angeles has a system that incorporates a series of Harman Kardon electronic components and a custom JBL loudspeaker system. In Washington, D.C., a similar system though the speakers is primarily Infinity. I listen to classical music principally. I am also very interested in jazz music and have long been a devotee of Sinatra, whose music I think is properly considered as unique among popular musicians. Among my friends I count such remarkable artists as Yo Yo Ma, probably the world’s finest cellist, and Wynton Marsalis, the great jazz musician of our age.

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