As a newcomer to HARMAN Professional Solutions, I’ve been struck by the passion of so many of the employees that I’ve met. Their enthusiasm and commitment to designing, developing and marketing products that impact the way the world hears and records amplified sound, and experiences lighting is inspiring. Among the most dedicated people I’ve gotten to know is Mark Gander, a bronze medal recipient of the Audio Engineering Society, who celebrates his 40th anniversary at the company this year.
Although Mark’s official title is Director of JBL Technology, many people simply know him by his license plate, JBL GURU, and his role as JBL’s historian. While music and technology have long driven Mark’s professional passion, he credits his people skills and customer focus—genuinely caring about and understanding their issues, why they like specific products and what they need that’s different—with his success.
Mark grew up in New Jersey playing piano, clarinet and saxophone, later expanding his repertoire to electric bass guitar and, as an undergraduate student at Syracuse University, the organ and Moog synthesizer. He loved playing music but also felt drawn to engineering, science and the more technical aspect of performance. He worked at the college radio station, ran concert PAs and, after graduating, became a roadie and front-of house engineer. But, after nine months on the road moving heavy gear, he decided to go to Georgia Tech where he earned a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering.
Upon graduation, with his hybrid music and engineering background, Mark received employment offers from numerous sound equipment companies but opted for JBL and a move to California. “I wanted to apprentice with engineers that did the best work. I knew how the most sophisticated artists and biggest sound companies used JBL speakers and that working there I would be with some of the people who invented the top speakers in the 50s and 60s. That was precisely what I wanted,” says Mark.
He started as a Transducer Engineer and, through the decades, has held vital marketing and engineering roles, including being responsible for the design and development of some of company’s most innovative loudspeaker technologies and spending 25 years as the Vice President of Marketing. “It’s been the variety of the work that’s kept me at the company,” he notes. “Working on everything from recording studio speakers and cinema products for the motion picture and post production industries to huge stadium PA systems for touring musicians has kept it stimulating.”
These days, Mark’s primary duties concern patents, trademarks and contracts, ensuring that JBL maximizes the value of the many innovations engineers create, while also protecting the value that engineering and marketing teams build as they present JBL products to the marketplace.
Mark has recently reduced his workload to half time, allowing his wife Renee and himself the flexibility to travel between their homes (and menageries of farm animals and pets) in rustic Topanga Canyon and Mendocino County as well as visit their children and grandchildren. “I need both the excitement and culture of a city like Los Angeles and the respite and escape of the country life. I love to go into town to see my musician friends perform but also thrive in nature with good clean air to rejuvenate me.”
Deeply involved with their bohemian Topanga community, Mark and Renee have been central to the development of what has become a Southern California institution, the annual Topanga Days County Fair. “For more than 20 years, my buddies and I would bring in HARMAN and JBL gear and run the PA for all the bands, while Renee would provide the backstage catering and hospitality,” recalls Mark.
Reflecting on his years at HARMAN, he adds, “For the first 20 years or so after I joined the company, I was single and primarily invested in making JBL and HARMAN as successful as possible. Eventually, though, you recognize how important it is to be a whole person, that you need to have outside interests – even if it just means getting some exercise, going on a hike or going to a museum. You’ve got to find the balance that makes you a healthier and more whole person. At this point, being at HARMAN is more than a career, in certain ways, it has become a lifestyle, but still I’m striving to maintain that balance.”
Much gratitude to Mark for sharing his HARMAN story. Congratulations on a remarkable 40-year journey!