Dealerscope 2020 Hall of Fame: Lyle Smith, HARMAN International
In 2009, Lyle Smith was named one of Dealerscope’s Top 40 Under 40 consumer electronics industry professionals to watch. At the time, he was the vice president of sales for the Western U.S. and Western Canada at Klipsch, and was just months away from beginning his now decade-long career with HARMAN International. Fast forward to today – when Dealerscope is proud to recognize Smith as an honoree in its 2020 Hall of Fame.
The senior vice president and general manager oversees HARMAN’s eight consumer audio regions across the globe. Of the company’s four diverse divisions (Connected Car, Lifestyle Audio, Professional Solutions, and Connected Services), Smith works within the Lifestyle Audio division, where he says, “the brand touches the consumer.”
Over the course of his career at HARMAN, he has strengthened distribution channels for the company’s Home Audio, Car Aftermarket, Portable Audio, Headphones, and Luxury Audio businesses. When he first joined HARMAN in 2009, Smith was the director of sales for the Western U.S., Latin America, and Canada—a role he held for about four and a half years before being promoted to vice president and general manager for HARMAN Lifestyle Americas. In that position, he was responsible for all sales, operations, and relationship management for the national consumer electronics channel, carrier channel, independent specialists, and regional retailers in the U.S. He also led export sales and expanded third-party distribution channels into Mexico and Central and South America. He served in this position up until six months ago, when his talents were taken to a more global level.
The leadership roles Smith held during his time at HARMAN taught him to have an open mind and trust in his team.
“I always try to hire people that are better than me and inspire them to do their best rather than telling them to do so,” he says.
Smith typically likes to have a plan in place, but appreciates someone who can alter the course when needed — just as he did at the dawn of his career.
A College Side Gig Turned 30-year Career
In the early ’90s, Smith was studying political science at the University of Colorado while working in retail sales at Ultimate Electronics. At the time, his mother became seriously ill and sadly passed away. As devastating as the time was, her passing seemed to really put things into perspective for Smith.
He made the difficult decision to leave school in order to focus on a budding career that he was truly passionate about. The young retail salesman quickly worked his way up the ladder at Ultimate, and was promoted to assistant store manager, store manager, and finally, regional sales manager. Smith was running about a third of Ultimate’s retail locations, and was the driving force behind half of the store openings in the Phoenix market, which he describes as one of the proudest moments of his career. As it would later turn out, Best Buy was keeping a close eye on these triumphs as well.
In 2003, Best Buy reached out to Smith with an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up. As he closed the chapter on his career with Ultimate and began the onboarding process with Best Buy, he noticed something different about the way they conducted his personality profile. Instead of having him complete a questionnaire about his work ethic and management style, Best Buy had him sit down with a psychologist who helped him assess his strengths.
After their conversation, the psychologist urged Smith to trust his gut more often. Up until that point, Smith felt he needed to make mostly fact-based decisions, and was a bit taken aback (in a good way) by Best Buy’s approach. He carried that piece of advice with him throughout his remaining years at Best Buy and applied it to his next endeavors at Klipsch and HARMAN.
As he looks towards the future of audio, Smith is excited about where the category is headed. Today, there are more options than ever to access content, whether in the car, at home, or on the go, and he sees that trend continuing in the years ahead.
As for retailing, he still believes in giving consumers the option of walking into a store to speak to someone who is knowledgeable on the subject matter. He recalled finding his own passion for audio at the age of 12 that same way.
“I’ve always loved audio,” he says. “When I was a kid I’d be the one running into the audio shop to ask questions, hear demos, and see all the latest stuff. I’m sure I drove those guys crazy.”
And his passion carries through, all these years later, coloring his present and future vision for HARMAN.