Approximately 400 University of Michigan students gathered Friday morning in the Stamps Auditorium for Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal’s segment in the Entrepreneurship Hour speaker series. The series, part of a class listed under ENTR 407, invites speakers with entrepreneurial narratives from various industries to speak at the University.

Paliwal’s presentation began with a video explaining Harman’s evolution as a company, and its current focuses. Harman started as an audio company, but when Paliwal took over from the original CEO in 2007, it rapidly evolved into a corporation focused on data and connectivity, and was acquired by Samsung. Paliwal discussed the video in the first part of his presentation where he explained the company’s break down into distinct brands, and how it transformed from an audio company into a tech behemoth. He also explained the broad scope of the company’s focuses — from the groundwork of connected cars to consumer electronics.

After explaining the company, Paliwal discussed with the students on what it took to become a successful entrepreneur. He talked about how spending time in China taught him the importance of leaving his comfort zone. He said just traveling allows students to see only the tip of the iceberg, and more can be learned from taking on projects in countries much different than their own.

ENTR 407 course instructor Matt Gibson, educational programs director, then joined Paliwal on stage and asked him questions geared toward the students. Students were also allowed to ask questions at this time.

In an email to The Daily, Gibson outlined the process for selecting Paliwal as a speaker in the series.

“Harman has a relationship with the college of engineering (sic). When we heard that Dinesh Paliwal was potentially able to visit campus we extended an invitation,” Gibson wrote. “Harmon is a leader and innovator in the industry, recently experienced rapid growth led by Mr. Paliwal leading to an enormous acquisition by Samsung, and has a valuable perspective on promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in their industry.”

After the event, The Daily interviewed members of Harman’s leadership team, including Paliwal; Paula Davis, chief of staff to the CEO; and Gani Nayak, senior VP of the connected car division, to discuss connected cars and Harman’s interests on campus.

“(The University has) a unique advantage of being a crucible right around the largest automakers. For us, that’s very big,” Paliwal said.

Paliwal unpacked the idea of why the University being close to the automakers is key for Harman.

“Here, we hire some people and they already know what goes on in this city. It’s like hiring finance people from Columbia or NYU,” he said.

Harman is the parent company to JBL, Harman Kardon, Bowers & Wilkins and other retail audio brands that are the part of the company that is most visible to the public. The remaining part, which is much larger and less visible, is the connected car and connected services sectors.

“JBL gives us excitement. Feel good. Celebrate. Let’s rock. But also the deep thinking, deep engineering excellence when it comes to cutting edge technology is from safe, secure, system software architecture,” Paliwal said. “Connected car is really the brain of the car. So we supply center stack computers. They (have) multiple engineering control units, but we also have the software bus in the car which is co-developed by automakers and Harman many years ago.”

Engineering senior John Nonnenmacher corroborated Paliwal, stressing the broad scope tech companies have.

“Having had an internship with another applied science company, Shure, this past summer, I think people perhaps underestimate the myriad of services and products a modern tech company can offer,” Nonnenmacher said. “It’s a big responsibility, and a marketing or sales branch who can recognize which products are attractive to which markets lends itself to the goals companies like Harman set for themselves.”

Paliwal detailed the idea of being connected to the auto industry.

“Connected car is term that was coined many years ago. And the definition of connected car is different for different people. You can have basic connectivity … when you have simple emergency recall capability, when there’s an emergency and you push the button which is connected to someone and say, ‘I’m in a ditch,’” Paliwal said.

But Harman’s vision of a connected car is more elaborate than features like OnStar, which Paliwal referenced. The center stack or center console of cars Harman helps develop incorporates real-time traffic and congestion monitoring, telematics for safety and sound management.

Paliwal said the ultimate vision of a connected car would include real-time updates on construction and traffic jams and even allow passengers to watch sports or the news in the car. A connected car can also update its software over the air, which means any problems in the vehicle, from the transmission to the infotainment system, can be fixed wirelessly.

“Today our connected car solutions can fix those software bugs over the air without you even knowing,” Paliwal said.  

According to Paliwal, connected cars also gather data on vehicle diagnostics.

“Now we are selling data in the cloud, analyzing data, uploading, downloading, updating software,” Paliwal said. “The car companies use this data to understand driver behavior. What drivers like, what they don’t like, what features they use, what they don’t use, what features are so difficult to use that they get frustrated and stop using — a lot of information we have been providing to Honda and a lot of other companies. It’s called Harman Insight.”

Connectivity fosters efficiency because companies can determine what features are used and forgo those that are glossed over. Insurance companies can also benefit from data because they can see how policyholders drive, rather than generalizing based on their age and what kind of car they drive.

Gibson wrote he thought students appreciated the presentation and learned from Paliwal.

“Mr. Paliwal was well received by the students,” Gibson noted. “They were engaged with his presentation and asked thoughtful questions during the Q&A. Several of them thanked us for bringing him in. I even saw that at least one student had tweeted about it. I think it’s fair to say that even at the University of Michigan, it’s rare to have opportunities to interact so closely with people like Dinesh Paliwal.”

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