Alejandro García
Vice President North America Operations
View from the Top

Mexico Sounds Just Right for Audio Giant

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 10:27

Q: How is Harman positioned in the global audio market, especially in the automotive segment?

A: Harman has surpassed US$6.5 billion in sales globally with more than US$23 billion in projects and orders ahead of us in the automotive industry. We are leaders in several divisions, thanks to our 16 brands in 25 countries. With our global team of 28,000 people we have obtained 5,900 patents and in 2014 we earned 51 design awards, not to mention three Grammy Awards and two Academy Awards as a result of continuous innovation from our 12,600 engineers, designers, and process technicians.

Q: How are Harman’s many specialties divided to offer the ideal service to each client?

A: Harman splits its activities into Connected Car, Lifestyle Audio, Professional Solutions and Connected Services. In the year to Q1 2016, sales in the Connected Car division reached approximately US$3 billion, Lifestyle Audio made US$2 billion, Professional Solutions totaled US$1 billion and Connected Services closed at US$500,000.

The Connected Car division develops navigation, multimedia, connectivity, safety and telemetrics services for the automotive sector. Lifestyle Audio creates premium consumer branded products for general use including home theatres and infotainment centers for cars. The Professional Solutions division caters to large events in terms of audio, lighting and video for entertainment companies, concert halls and airports, to name a few. Connected Services develops the software needed to link the other three divisions. Harman is known worldwide as Harman Kardon, Bang & Olufsen, Infinity, JBL, Bowers & Wilkins, among other brands in the Lifestyle Audio section. Within Professional Solutions, AKG, AMX, BSS, Lexicon and Crown are some of the brands we manage. Within Connected Car and Connected Services, we operate under the Harman name.

Q: What are the technological and production processes that ensure the quality of your products?

A: Any time we find a problem, we analyze the system and processes to avoid mistakes in the future. By following a scientific method, we can project the result of any change we make to our processes without wasting time or material by trial and testing. Once we understand an issue we can redesign and improve our processes. Harman is the market leader in connected car solutions to the world’s automakers. Our innovative and highly integrated infotainment technologies offer automakers the most complete solutions for advanced navigation, intuitive user interfaces, integrated audio, device connectivity, cyber security and connected safety.

Q: What are your proudest achievements in terms of innovation and technology in recent years?

A: We developed systems such as Clarifi, which takes a low-quality compressed audio file and converts it so the user can enjoy it in higher quality. Clarifi works by modifying a limited frequency, allowing the sound to be understood more clearly by the brain. Also, the number of Harman speakers in a car can vary from six to 20, achieving the best sound experience possible. Harman has also managed several alliances and joint ventures with Microsoft and Google among others to achieve the desired connectivity in cars.

As car manufacturers target lighter vehicles, noise- isolation material in the cabin is reduced to lower fuel consumption. Under the HALOsonic name, Harman’s technologies can produce sounds that counter the noise of the engine thereby increasing audio comfort inside a car. Similarly, since pedestrians do not usually hear an electric car as it approaches, HALOsonic technologies can electronically simulate the sound of an engine to remove the danger inherent in vehicles that make almost no sound.

Harman has R&D operations in Queretaro, where 50 engineers are creating software and designing products for the company. We develop full systems from scratch and we collaborate with OEMs to consider the number of speakers, as well as the engine’s noise and resonance within the unit while engineering our product.

Q: How does your plant in Queretaro contribute to your position in the automotive industry?

A: Harman International’s goal is to capitalize on our brands, diversify and grow in emerging markets while optimizing costs and capital structures. The plant in Queretaro specifically contributes to these three main pillars by expanding our technological leadership.

Our company is number one in infotainment for Audi, though our clients include BMW, Chrysler, Ferrari, General Motors and Hyundai. We are already creating head units for Audi’s new production operations in San Jose Chiapa, Puebla and are preparing our local team and installations for the entrance of BMW to San Luis Potosi. A product specifically for Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Aguascalientes is planned for the second half of 2018.

Our plant in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua focuses purely on speakers but the two Queretaro facilities produce head units. The larger of our two plants in Queretaro employs almost 1,800 people and we expect that to grow by 200 people over the next fiscal year. While it is a fledgling plant, it has developed exponentially and our success in Queretaro has been palpable.

The last four years of hard work have positioned us as the top Harman plant worldwide. The first sale from our Mexican production in 2011 paved the way for the US$1 billion in sales we have reached with a single plant. Our second facility in Queretaro will support similar brands, expanding Harman’s existing operations to meet growing demand from OEMs including FCA, BMW, Volkswagen, Daimler, Subaru, KIA, Hyundai, Ford, Audi, General Motors and Maserati.

Q: To what do you attribute Harman’s impressive growth in Mexico?

A: Our human capital is the key to our success as a company. Our recruitment process is based on identifying talent rather than just focusing on studies and experience. Depending on whether candidates display interpersonal traits, are fast learners or work with structure, we can place them in the level of responsibility and area most suited to their particular talent. New hires must be as enamored with the company as we are to maintain Harman’s high quality. We provide the best training possible to certify new staff in their area and to ensure they begin with excellent skills. We even sponsor certain employees who want to continue their studies and those already working can accelerate their career development according to the experience they acquire while working for Harman.

Q: What recommendations would you offer Queretaro universities to generate better prepared graduates?

A: There is a lot of room for improvement, especially in electronics R&D, design, software and hardware. Regarding the manufacturing divisions, there are gaps in knowledge particularly in electronics. To combat this, we have a handful of methods to provide universities with feedback. Harman Experience invites university students to meet our human resources team, to visit our plant and inspect vehicles that have Harman equipment installed. We offer direct internships to universities across all areas of production. Many of these interns remain with Harman and continue growing after they graduate.