What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
Amar Bose: The sound of a life well lived
July 16th, 2013 by Peggy Aycinena
Sitting in beautiful Boston on a sunny morning in July, with Cambridge just across the Charles River, it is a wistful exercise to contemplate the life of Amar Bose. Given that Dr. Bose was a well-known professor at MIT and an equally well-known entrepreneur, it is not surprising that his death last week was noted by many local publications. However, Bose Corp. is known everywhere as a provider of some of the best acoustic equipment in the world, so the passing of Amar Bose has been noted by the international press as well.
I remember being in Paris in the late 1980s, having dinner there at the apartment of some friends. They were insistent that I sit in a specially marked spot in the middle of the room to fully appreciate the symphony hall-like quality of their new sound system. They had just purchased a set of Bose speakers, which were positioned carefully to create a magical experience for whoever sat in that special seat. I did as I was told and found that my hosts were absolutely right. It was uncanny how rich and full and lifelike the sound was there, as if one were sitting in Davies Hall listening to MTT direct Mahler. It was indeed magical.
The man behind the excellence of this sound had a typical MIT CV. He was a first-generation American whose parents had fled political upheaval in their homeland. He came from an educated family. He earned his bachelors, masters, and Ph.D. at MIT in electrical engineering. He spent a year back in the Old Country doing a Fulbright and then returned to MIT to teach for the next 45 years. Basically, he spent his entire adult life at MIT. Typical.
Something else was typical about Dr. Bose; he had an obsession with a particular problem in technology. How to improve on the sound coming out of speakers. Given that he first became interested in the problem in the mid-1950s, you could argue that he was simply in the right place at the right time. Radio and record players were blasting out music round-the-clock and a new generation of post-war babies had a voracious appetite for that music. If Amar Bose had not figured out how to deliver better sound quality, someone else would have.
But that argument would be wrong. Prof. Bose was by all reports, a diligent researcher, a thoughtful professor, and a man of great humility and intelligence. And he was lucky.
Encouraged by colleagues and mentors to start a company to commercialize the sound solutions he had developed, he founded Bose Corp. in 1964. The company grew with time, in and around Prof. Bose’ academic obligations, and today employs over 9000 people. The company was launched initially with angel investor associates of Dr. Bose, never went public, and remained under his control until the last. None of this is typical. Particularly from the vantage point of Boston looking out to Silicon Valley.
In that valley, 3000 miles to the west of here, humility is not a watchword, the latest round of VC doubloons is something CEOs brag about over a game of golf, and the idea that the inventor is the founder is the chief executive throughout the first 50 years of a company’s trajectory is completely unheard of. The story of Dr. Amar Bose is completely atypical.
Two years ago, at the annual EDAC CEO Forecast panel, Synopsys’ Yvette Huygen and I both won a set of Bose headphones as a prize for having predicted in 2010 what various EDA stock valuations would be 12 months later in 2011. Those headphones provided as magical an experience in 2011 as my domestic ‘symphony hall’ experience provided back in the 1980s in Paris.
In fact, my Bose headphones are here with me today in Boston, pumping Mahler into one ear and then the other. Davies Hall is right inside my head. Hence on a peaceful summer morning in Boston, with the MIT dome agleam in the sunshine just across the Mass Ave. bridge, it is not hard to contemplate the genius of Amar Bose.
There was nothing typical about him – his intellect, his humility, his entrepreneurial strength and innovations, his commitment to technical excellence and to his great institution of higher learning. MIT has received a huge endowment from the company he founded, but Amar Bose was not just a benefactor to MIT. He was in truth a benefactor to the world.
* One could argue that Hewlett and Packard were inventors and founders and chief executives of the company they founded as well. That argument would be a good one to address over a beer in a nearby pub if you have time.
* Synopsys’ Yvette Huygen won a second set of Bose headphones at the 2012 EDA CEO Forecast Panel, proving that lightning does indeed strike twice.
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