The Harman file Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

Age: 50

Born: Durham, England

Education: Undergraduate degree, geography and geology, Durham University; MBA, Warwick University, England

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I think having a good-news culture that is positive and energizing. I love living in America. It is the most positive culture I’ve lived in, and I’ve lived in six or seven countries worldwide. The U.S. is easily the most positive culture I’ve lived in. A good-news culture is positive and energizing, but sometimes it can hide some harsh realities that require radical improvement. So the business lesson is to really get underneath things and understand the good and the bad.

What skills or traits are essential for a business leader?

Have clear direction as to where you are going. Being highly focused in getting there. Being determined and being passionate is critical. Charismatic leadership is important, and being approachable and trustworthy. If you have those elements, you aren’t going to go far wrong.

What are several universal truths you’ve learned about leading a business?

Listening to customers and prospects is a start. Don’t try to run before you can walk, really. Try to play to your organization’s strengths, know where your organization is strong.

Definitely get some early wins; it’s motivational, it’s visible. Don’t wait nine months to get your first wins. Be highly externally visible, accessible, approachable. You need to be out there, not buried in some office. Keep things simple and focused, and I think being humble is important. I lived in China, and humility is a trait I learned there. Even if you’re the leader, you haven’t achieved trust until you’ve earned it. Having a significant level of humility can help build that trust and that transparency.

Harman on lunch meetings with employees: It’s pretty free-form; it’s not just about ideas. I ask questions about what is going well with the business, and what is not going so well, what we can improve, what are our personal feelings around leadership. To me, it’s a personal feedback session, and I can always come across as the stupid Englishman and ask silly questions.