Friday, August 15, 2008

New Age Audio Systems: The Bose Story.

Bose Phenomenon.

Entrepreneurship is the midwife to innovation. Yet, how many businessmen have the courage of conviction to build enterprises that are based on principled ideas of what companies should be? Last fortnight, on a raw autumn day, I met an exception to the rule: 72-year-old Amar C Bose. The story of how a young MIT grad’s quest for the perfect stereo system led to the creation of Bose Corporation in 1964 is business lore. The privately-held company went on to become a sound (sic!) transnational, with a turnover in excess of $1.2 billion in 2002 and a reputation of building the world’s best audio systems.

What is less well known, I discovered, is that the Bose Corporation is not the brainchild of a canny business strategist, but an ongoing experiment by a brilliant scientist who knows how to use logic to move from assumption to conclusion. I had wanted to meet Dr Bose from the time I first stepped into a Bose showroom many years ago. Each retail outlet comes with its own demonstration room. Walk-in customers are urged to take in what can only be called a Bose son-et-lumiere. You sit in front of a bank of impressive-looking stereo equipment including awesome speakers that thrum life-like sound at you. At the end of the show, the salesperson removes the large speakers to reveal that actually, all this while, the hi-fi sound was coming from the tiny Bose speakers. At this point, the audience gasps.

As I drove towards The Mountain, the Bose Corporation’s headquarters in Framingham, MA, I was very curious as to what kind of a mind had come up with a marketing strategy that changed the customer’s mindset and convinced the customer about its own product attributes. Turned out it’s a teacher’s mind. As a electrical engineering professor at MIT, writing textbooks forced Dr Bose to think like a student. “It caused me to project myself into the mind of someone I am addressing”.

So, in 1968, when the Bose Corporation came out with its first breakthrough product — the 901 Direct/Reflecting Speaker which reflected 89 per cent sound off walls and brought live concert-like sound into homes — Dr Bose also decided to come up with a breakthrough marketing strategy to sell the product. “I knew this speaker was better than anything in the market. But, if I had left it to the salesperson, he wouldn’t even try to explain the attributes. So, I came up with the idea of a 7-minute demonstration. It was like teaching or writing a textbook”.

Welcome to the Bose school of entrepreneurship, which teaches only two lessons. One: Passionately, madly and deeply, believe in how you want to run your company, and ensure your actions are designed to follow your beliefs, no matter how illogical or non-businesslike it may seem to anyone else. Since innovation is all, it’s ideas and not hierarchy which determines the direction of research. Since Dr Bose is a fierce believer in ethics, every employee learns the p’s and q’s fast — salespeople are sacked on the spot if they are caught criticising the competition.

Two: Passionately, madly, and deeply, avoid doing what you do not believe in, no matter how logical it seems to everyone else. Since he wanted to ensure that the Bose Corporation was driven by research and not financial results, Dr Bose refused to take the company public and be bullied by Wall Street. Since he did not start the company for personal wealth, Dr Bose’s salary is fixed by the HR department just as it is for every other employee. None of his children work there nor will they inherit it — instead, it will, most likely, pass on to an education trust.

Is Dr Bose always right, has he always made smart choices, were resources always efficiently employed? He will be the first to admit, no, no and no. “I would have been fired at least five times if I had been the chairman of a public company”, he says with a grin. Then, he leans forward, his eyes burning with intensity: “For me, the profits that come in are like the blood in the human system. However, the real excitement is the way the body works.” That’s the thrill of enterprise — despite 38 years of being in business. When did you last feel the rush?

Article Reference:
The article appeared in the Financial Express dated: Tuesday , November 12, 2002.

No comments: