AV Interview: Marc Kellom, Harman Pro
AV.technology editor, Chris Holder, caught up with Harman’s head of R&D while at the Integrate expo.
Interview:/ Christopher Holder
Marc Kellom, VP of R&D Global for Harman Professional, heads up a team of some 400 engineers across six sites globally, in Dallas, Los Angeles, Shenzhen, Budapest, Bangalore and Denmark. His is a sizeable task: to mastermind the roll out of a hugely ambitious revivification of the Harman Pro brands.
I started by asking him something of the bigger picture objective of the brand revamp:
Mar Kellom: Our objective has been to refresh a lot of our key product categories. Most recently, you’ve seen us announce multiple major AMX products — we have really been reworking AMX from the bottom up in all of its key categories. That’s been a multiyear investment for us and, candidly, quite overdue. The response has been very positive. Before that there’s been a tremendous amount of JBL product coming, and a big investment in Martin Lighting.
AV: There are many screaming beaks to feed. It must be hard to know which one to give the worm to first.
MK: That’s a big part of our challenge as a leadership: to make sure we focus our investment on the right areas. It is, after all, a sizeable investment. We take that very seriously. We didn’t really tap the brakes at all during the covid pandemic. We continued to invest in new product and in development, but there’s a big responsibility that comes with that: to make sure we’re making that investment in the right place.
AV: The long-time Harman R&D promise has been around getting the most from brand synergies. How’s that going?
MK: As these new products are launching, they’re all based on the same technologies, albeit optimised for the different brands in the different markets. But what you’re seeing there is we only have to design and develop something one time and then we can perfect it and distribute it across multiple products.
All these AMX products we’ve launched are based on core technologies that are also finding their way into other parts of the portfolio. That’s a big part of it: making sure we’re reusing the technology that makes sense to reuse and only developing the bits that we really, really need. But to do that in the right way, we can’t forget what makes each of our brands unique and special even though we’re trying to reuse technology across them. It’s a big challenge.
AV: How do you do that?
MK: The answer is, again, to standardise only in the places where it really makes sense from a technology and a business standpoint, but not to overly constrain either — design the stuff we really need to, but then reuse the things that we can reuse.
AV: Do you have all the brands you need to complete a Harman ecosystem for your customers?
MK: We’re very fortunate there, in terms of our stable of brands, with their history and legacy. But the thing I’m always reminding our team about is: the products are only the beginning of the conversation. Having the right product gets you into the conversation. And now we start talking about all the other things that it requires to actually solve a customer’s problems. So the product has to be right, it has to be robust, it has to be at the right price, the right quality, all those things. And that enables the rest of the sales conversation to take place.
AV: What’s coming up next on the road map ?
MK: We have significant work happening in all categories, whether it’s amplification, audio processing… lighting is on a tremendous roll right now. It’s actually a really exciting time and very busy for us, and there’s a very positive energy around the conversations we’re having because we have new things to talk about; new technology and we’re able to go solve real problems in a more impactful way than we could with the previous generation of product.
AV: Are the supply chain problems beginning to clear?
MK: Mostly, yes. That’s been really challenging for us. If you think about the width and depth of our product catalogue across all the brands, the component shortages have been very, very painful for us — very challenging. We’ve been forced to redesign over a thousand electronic components in the last couple of years and it continues — you might have been buying a certain part for 10 years and without warning, it’s just gone.
AV: Any love for Soundcraft soon?
MK: We’ve made some very good progress there. It’s gone a lot slower than we intended. We made an announcement maybe 18 months ago that we were going to be staffing up our Soundcraft product development team — both engineers and product managers. The technical hiring was a real challenge, especially last year but we’ve made very significant progress in just the last six months on this topic. That said, realistically, it’s probably 2025 before we will see new product.
AV: Finally, Marc, how would you score Harman Pro R&D out of 10 during this flurry of activity and product releases?
MK: A solid six and a half. We hold ourselves to a very high standard. We’ve got some work to do but we have the resources and the talent to do it. At this point now, it’s a matter of turning the crank and helping that team continue to get better.