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Elkhart audio maker casts large global shadow

The World Cup, international soccer’s prestigious competition, will feature amplifiers and speakers made by Harman International.

Posted on June 3, 2014 at 5:02 p.m.

ELKHART — When the world’s most-watched sporting event kicks off June 12 in Brazil, millions of fans will come or tune in from around the globe.

In nine of the 12 stadiums staging the FIFA World Cup 2014, the quadrennial world soccer championships, the high-end amplifiers and speakers needed to keep all of those fans abreast of the games’ status, as well as the equipment that broadcasts audio and video signals around the world via satellite, will have something in common.

They all will have been made in a Harman International plant at 1718 W. Mishawaka Road.

Harman landed the World Cup contract with the help of a Brazilian audio company, Selenium, that it acquired three years ago, said Blake Augsburger, executive vice president of Harman International and head of its Professional Division.

“It was very competitive,” Augsburger said of the contract.

While it needed a Brazilian presence to win the deal, Harman is no stranger to the big stage. If you’ve attended football games at Notre Dame Stadium or Soldier Field in Chicago, or watched the Chicago Bulls or Blackhawks in the United Center, you’ve listened over Crown amplifiers. If you’ve watched reality music competition shows “The Voice” or “American Idol,” or attended the Super Bowl or Olympics in recent years, or a service at Granger Community Church, you heard it over Crown amplifiers. If you’ve been to a movie, chances are you’ve heard audio powered by Crown amps.

In addition to Crown amps, Elkhart workers make dbx and BSS signal processors and network technologies. The equipment is used not only in large venues such as the World Cup but also in the popular music touring business.

”What we’re really noted for is on the touring side,” said Augsburger, who lives in Mishawaka on the weekends but works out of offices in Los Angeles and New York during the week. “This is the rock and roll. We sell to a rental company that provides the equipment to the artist as a service. So they set it up in the evening, take it down, move it to the next site and run the console.”

When Harman International, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., bought Elkhart-based Crown Audio in 2000, it hired Augsburger to serve as its president. In 2006, he was promoted to lead Harman’s entire professional division.

The Elkhart site is part of Harman Professional, one of the global company’s three entities: the professional division, which includes every component of a large-venue audio system; the infotainment division, which includes electronic navigation components in a car; and the lifestyle division, a combination of consumer and car audio products.

The professional division also has a presence in Salt Lake City, but electronics manufacturing operations were moved from Salt Lake City to Elkhart last year, adding about 60 jobs to the Elkhart site. Design, engineering and marketing operations remain in Salt Lake City.

For the past two years, Elkhart also has housed Harman’s U.S. regional sales office.

The Elkhart facility employs 302 people, a figure that hasn’t changed much over the past five years. But the mix has shifted away from direct labor and toward more professionals, as the Elkhart operation increasingly focuses on more low-volume, high-value production.

"We’re trying to build the professional base employee here because there’s a lot of good engineering guys from Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, IU. We’re doing more design here for the total business, we’re doing application of the engineering designs for systems out of Elkhart.“

Augsburger said it hasn’t been hard to recruit, as long as they recruit the right people.

”My experience is if you’re trying to hire someone in the Midwest, you need someone from the Midwest. Usually those kids stay. If you try to move kids here from the East Coast or West Coast, it’s 50/50. But I think we’ve done pretty good. We’ve got some pretty sharp people. There’s some pretty good energy in this facility.”

T.J. Smith, a Cleveland native, came to work as an amplifier design engineer at Harman’s Elkhart Crown site right out of college in 2000. After nine years there, he was assigned to a project management job in China, where he took on marketing and sales responsibilities. In June, he was promoted to general manager at Salt Lake City.

“It’s a really cool place to be, a great environment, a lot of energy,” Smith said of the Elkhart plant. “There’s a really good mix of seasoned, very knowledgeable people who’ve been there a long time and energetic young guys who are eager to carve out a niche for themselves.”

Smith said the Elkhart plant is a “little off the beaten path. It’s an unassuming little building. I think people know something special happens there on Mishawaka Road but they don’t realize the scale of it.”

He credited Augsburger with transforming Crown from a “sleepy” company that was being “out-innovated” by its competitors to one that is really “professionalized.”

“I can’t think of a competitor anywhere that is not chasing what Crown is doing right now,” he said.


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 Jeff Burbrink

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