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Audio Pioneer and Newsweek Owner Sidney Harman Dies at 92

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Arts entrepreneur and philanthropist Sidney Harman died Tuesday night in Washington, D.C. of complications from leukemia. Harman was an instrumental figure in the development and advancement of high fidelity audio technologies as founder (in 1953) of harman/kardon, inc. and in 2010 rescued Newsweek from financial ruin, purchasing it from the Washington Post last August and overseeing its merger with The Daily Beast.

According to a letter from the Harman family published at The Daily Beast:

He first learned of his illness one month ago and remained vigorously engaged as Executive Chairman of Newsweek, and Chairman of the Academy for Polymathic Study at the University of Southern California.

The Academy opened in February on the second floor of USC's Doheny library. Jonathan Alter, who earlier this week became the sixth high-profile Newsweek journalist to leave the publication, blogged this morning about his admiration of Harman:

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I was intrigued by Sidney’s ideas and, like so many who encountered him, soon enough impressed at his charm and astonishing vigor. He strode quickly into a room, tanned and fit, offered a firm mogul handshake like a man decades younger. With a near-photographic memory, he dazzled dinner parties and meetings of editors by reciting long passages from Shakespeare, Tennyson and long-forgotten essayists, all of which had some genuine wisdom to impart. He saved Newsweek, hired Tina Brown as editor and told me just last week that the magazine was on track to break even. When he died April 12 after a brief battle with leukemia, it came as a shock. He was 92 and expected to live past 100. We all believed him.

Harman remained chairman emeritus of Harman International Industries, parent company of Harman Kardon, JBL and Infinity, among other audio, electronics, digital navigation and geographic information systems (GIS), after retiring in 2008, according to AP. Harman was long committed to social justice and workplace equality, remembered in Washington as a pro-business Democrat (He was married for 31 years to former westside and South Bay (CA-36) Congress Representative Jane Harman) with a conscience. In 1958, after learning of complaints from workers at Harman Kardon's Bolivar, Tennessee plant, he took action to encourage dissent and promote democracy -- and coffee breaks -- in the workplace. According to a 1992 Harvard Business Review case study, Harman overheard one worker say to his fellow workers:

‘I don’t work for no buzzer. The buzzer works for me. It’s my job to tell me when it’s ten o’clock. I got me a watch. I’m not waiting another ten minutes. I’m going on my coffee break.’ And all 12 guys took their coffee break, and, of course, all hell broke loose.” The worker’s principled rebellion—his refusal to be cowed by management’s senseless rule—was, in turn, a revelation to Harman: “The technology is there to serve the men, not the reverse,” he remembers realizing. “I suddenly had this awakening that everything I was doing at the college had appropriate applications in business.” In the ensuing years, Harman revamped the factory and its workings, turning it into a kind of campus—offering classes on the premises, including piano lessons, and encouraging the workers to take most of the responsibility for running their workplace.

Harman would have been 93 in August. He is survived by his wife, former Rep. Jane Harman, their six children and two step-children.