University of Southern California

Harman Sounds Off on Success
Industrialist goes back to basics for advice to grads at MBA commencement ceremony
May 14, 2007 • by News at Marshall

For USC Marshall School of Business M.B.A. graduates who've spent large chunks of their time crunching through complex statistics, calculus and financial analyses, Dr. Sidney Harman has some advice: spend more time reading and writing.

"I read to learn," said Dr. Harman, the featured speaker at Marshall's 2007 M.B.A. commencement ceremony on May 11 at the Galen Center. "I write to discover what I know."

Harman's speech capped a full 36 hours of graduation ceremonies on the USC campus, including events for Marshall's undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students and a combined ceremony for Leventhal School of Accounting undergraduate and M.Acc. and M.B.T. students. And despite the long day, Harman provided an energetic cap to the festivities.

"The human mind is an astonishing instrument," said Dr. Harman, chairman of Harman International Industries. "It turns on automatically when we get out of bed in the morning and it does not turn off until we get to the office. I want to suggest to you that operating that way is a damnable waste of time and a damnable loss of a lot of fun!"

Dr. Harman eschewed platitudes in describing his own secrets for success as a leader: his long-held practice of discriminating reading and thoughtful writing. He urged the graduates to become authentic and effective managers through life-long learning.

"Those of you who embrace the combination of serious reading and serious writing have an edge over the competition," said Dr. Harman, whose company, originally called Harman/Kardon, revolutionized the high-fidelity industry more than 50 years ago with the development the integrated stereo receiver.

Dr. Harman has had an illustrious business career, building a company that recently agreed to an $8 billion acquisition by two private-equity funds (he will remain as chairman with a substantial stake in the company).

But Dr. Harman is also recognized as a world-class educator, philanthropist and public servant whose pioneering approach to quality-of-life issues in his factories have been closely studied by business schools ever since. He also wrote two books on leadership, integrity and the "politics of values." And though he was speaking to a business school class, Dr. Harman has pithy opinions about the way students should be taught. He called the "specialization" taught in many business schools just wrong.

"Get me some poets as managers," he said. Poets are "our original systems thinkers."

Poets contemplate the life we live, interpret and coalesce material and generate wisdom, Dr. Harman's prescription for what makes a good manager.

Dr. Harman suggested a straightforward success plan for Marshall MBA graduates: Determine your beliefs through concentrated study, make the welfare of your employees your first concern and strive for authenticity.

"I tell you this," he said, "in business, if you develop a facility for determining what it is you really believe in, you have begun to define yourself."

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.