When Howard Lance, chairman and CEO of Harris Corp., needed a new head of his Broadcast Communications Division, he chose someone from the government mission support and IT side of the business.
Lance had stated earlier that lower profitability in the broadcast division had been a concern in recent quarters. In May, he named Jeremy C. Wensinger, 41, as president of the division, replacing Bruce Allan, who had held the job for six and a half years.
Sixteen days later, the division had reorganized its business structure and named leaders of five new units: Broadcast Networking and Government Solutions, Europe Broadcast Systems, Television Broadcast Systems, Radio Broadcast Systems and Broadcast Automation Solutions.
Then in June Harris confirmed that it had reduced its U.S. broadcast workforce of 1,150 by 5 percent, a move that included layoffs. It also refocused its systems integration efforts – Wensinger said it exited that business – and will rely instead on third-party partners for those services.
That’s a lot of change in a short time. From all indications, the changes reflect the managerial approach of the new division president.
Wensinger was vice president and general manager of Harris Technical Services Corp., part of the company’s Government Communications Systems Division. Lance said Wensinger had been “instrumental in guiding the rapid growth of our Technical Services business to nearly $200 million in revenue through successful pursuits and the award of new programs.” Now the head of one of the corporation’s four operating units, Wensinger answers directly to Lance.
I spoke with the new division president spoke about the changes at Harris.
RW: How does your background prepare you for this job?
Wensinger: When Howard and I first talked, I asked that exact question, because Harris has on several occasions moved some government people into the commercial environment with mixed results. I was pretty candid.
I asked for the assignment. To Howard’s credit he saw a lot of similarities in my background. I spent a lot of time early in my career in the hardware side of government development. In the last seven or eight years I spent almost the entire time doing solution-based selling. We were principally a systems and software provider.
I’ve come to appreciate that this (broadcast) segment is evolving. Harris needs to step up to help our customers make the transition from analog to digital. … I’m very comfortable with the skills and experience I had on the government side transferring to this market space. The government has itself gone through a similar transition.
I look at customers and ask, “What can Harris do for them as a partner?” A transmitter is a long-term investment. During that 25-year lifespan, I want to be more than just a transmitter provider for them. I want to ask what is it that Harris can do to help that customer improve its operating efficiency and reduce its cost of doing business.
RW: What has Howard Lance charged you with accomplishing?
Wensinger: We do have a plan for next fiscal year. You saw us announce some restructuring. Some of it is positioning for next year, some of it is for the long term.
I had a plan in place, I know exactly where we’re going financially. The round of announcements you saw us make was directly related to that.
I came from a business unit where it’s very powerful to say, “Look, you run TV. Here’s your team and your target; and you’re given complete line authority to make that happen.”
Our ability to be nimble and flexible is important. For radio that means giving Deb Huttenburg (the new vice president of Radio Broadcast Systems, answering to Wensinger) the authority to operate … She has all the “bandwidth” required to make her customers’ businesses a success.
I believe the only way we’re going to succeed in the long run is if our customers succeed.
RW: Characterize the radio broadcast supplier marketplace right now.
Wensinger: I’m very excited about it. … Deb has tremendous experience in this space and in broadcast. I said, “Try to help me understand why we’re at the point that we’re at. Why are we going to have to reposition ourselves?” When we took a step back, we said, “The market is there. (Clients) are ready, they’re willing; we just don’t have the right structure to do that, to support them.”
There’s good demand internationally; we’re seeing very strong demand domestically; I’m very excited about HD Radio.
RW: In talking to Harris managers over the years, many have spoken to me of the importance of service and client relationships; yet the company has seen bumpy times of late. How exactly are your changes different from what’s been done in the past?
Wensinger: Frankly I think we got wrapped up in the television high-def conversion. We got enamored with the idea that high-def TV was going to be an annuity. And it’s not, it’s just not. It’s a wonderful market space, but it’s not everything.
I’m not trying to be disingenuous to my predecessors, but I think mine is more of a mission view. … A lot of what you see today is self-inflicted wounds. It may be true that the market is (also a problem), but I want to take more ownership of it. I want to say that we’re where we are because of decisions we made.
The fundamental difference is on the actual fulfillment side of it. Under a matrixed organization, Deb would have had the sales team, but still be relying on some abstract organization called Manufacturing or Vendor Relationships.
What I’ve put forward is that Deb has line authority all the way from sales through fulfillment. If we had a customer whose hair is on fire – who’s off the air – she can move product around to satisfy their needs. She has the ability to run her business, from womb to tomb. That’s fundamentally different from a matrixed organization.
We did this principally to increase speed, flexibility and focus. They’re a team that focuses on nothing but the radio side. They’re not off selling TV transmitters. I think that provides customers with a lot more attentiveness.
RW: Yet this is a marketplace where some dealer products are sold at 8 or 9 percent markup; and big clients constantly press you to keep prices down. How do you balance your idea of service with a low markup environment?
Wensinger: We did exit the system integration business. We were competing with integrators who were great industry partners of ours. We don’t get into that mode of selling third-party capability. Those economics are terribly difficult to close unless your corporate structure is set up to do that.
This entity is different from one that throws off cash. I look at Harris content. What is the Harris content that is best in class and forward-looking in nature?
RW: Other thoughts about the direction of your business?
Wensinger: There is never any fun in what we did in the last month. I detest it. My job for the 1,100 families we have that work for Harris Broadcast is to provide a road map, to provide a structure around that road map and provide the resources. The objective, obviously, is growth, profitable growth. I’m excited about the opportunity to share that vision.