Amar Bose never intended to start an audio company that just made the best speakers on the planet. He wanted more. He wanted a place to play.
And it’s safe to say he succeeded. Beyond creating high-fidelity speakers synonymous with pristine home theater audio and luxury cars, Bose has unleashed breakthroughs across such broad disciplines as aviation, defense, and even nuclear physics.
So how does one create such a far-reaching company?
Insatiable curiosity. And an unwavering focus on the long term. (The Curious Genius of Amar Bose)
“That’s a big problem now in this country,” Bose says. “The average automotive CEO stays on the job for only 4.7 years, so he is not likely to invest money in long-term research. The consequence is that this country, which should be on the frontiers of research, is losing its technological leadership.”
And that’s not just lip service coming from Bose. In 1994 Bose’s Live Music Technology Group unveiled the Bose Auditioner program, a software tool that allows acoustic engineers to hear precisely what a proposed audio system will sound like from any seat in a large venue, before any building construction begins. It’s been used to build PA systems from the Staples Center in Los Angeles to the Sistine Chapel.
Ken Jacob, Director and Chief Engineer of the Live Music Technology Group worked with his team for 10 years to develop the tool.
On the day that Jacob unveiled the project, Bose admitted that he hadn’t expected it to succeed. “He let me work on that with a team of five engineers for 10 years—most of the time thinking that it was impossible,” Jacob told me, shaking his head in disbelief. When I repeat Jacob’s quote to Bose, he grins. “I thought the computational power wouldn’t be there,” he says. “But the problem was tough enough and the team was talented enough that I thought their research would yield something good.
Bose encouraged a team to continue development on a tool for 10 years! That’s a lifetime in the business world. A world that seems to be speeding up every day.
And yet his most audacious project to date, to revolutionize car suspension systems, has been in development for over 25 years. That’s right. Twenty-five years.
Unveiled in 2004, the Bose suspension replaces typical automotive shock absorbers with ultrafast linear electric motors, isolating the passenger compartment from bumps and dips while also eliminating pitching and rolling during turns and braking.
The secret program began in 1986 with five years of mathematical research and analysis focusing on high-power linear motors and amplifiers using extremely complex control algorithms run by high speed supercomputers – none of which even existed.
This is not your normal company.
Vice president Bob Maresca remembers the day, in 1986, when Bose told him about the then-secret project, which was code-named Project Sound.
“Amar was very excited,” Maresca says. “He said a car with this suspension could corner as well as any racecar, but it would have a smoother ride than any luxury car. He said it could crouch down and leap like a leopard, then it would put its paws out and accept the landing. I thought, ‘What an intriguing and exciting fantasy—but impossible, of course.’ I knew better than to tell him what I thought, because the more people say it can’t be done, the more excited he gets.”
How is it possible that Bose has been able to focus so much time into research projects when every other company seems to be racing to the next innovation at lightning speed?
“One of the best decisions I ever made was keeping the company privately held, so we can take short-term pain for long-term gain,” he says. “Public companies have to look good every 90 days to please the markets, so they can’t do that.”
Counter to our fast-paced start-up culture where making money and going public are the Holy Grail, Bose made the very intentional decision to keep his company private. The Bose company has been driven by a different vision than any of their competitors. Putting innovation as the key ingredient of the company meant taking longer to produce more revolutionary products.
“I would have been fired a hundred times at a company run by MBAs,” he tells me. “But I never went into business to make money. I went into business so that I could do interesting things that hadn’t been done before.”
In 1987 Bose won the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation’s Inventor of the Year award for the Bose Waveguide system used in the Bose Wave radio, a product that he readily admits took 12 years to develop.
Bose clearly sees the world differently than most.
His son, Vanu, remembers driving in a rainstorm with his father, who squinted through a windshield streaked by poorly performing wipers. “Most people would just complain about how the wipers don’t work right,” Vanu says, “but he was analyzing why they didn’t work and thinking out loud about how to make them better. A few weeks later I saw on his desk a patent application for a new design for windshield wipers. It was only later that I realized that not everyone is always looking for ways to do things better.”
Amar Bose passed away on July 12, 2013. If I had to bet on a company that will outlast its founder and still be relevant in 50 years, I’d be all in on Bose. Watch this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8sVDenpPOE
Fox Tip: What is your curiosity driving you to make better?