NAME: Jack Gershfeld
TITLE: President and CEO
OVERTIME: Inspired by the original release of the movie Tron, Gershfeld set out to make science fiction a reality with video interfaces that connected computers to projectors.
Jack Gershfeld, president and CEO, Altinex
SCN: At what point did you realize that you were destined for a career in technology?
Jack Gershfeld: I remember very vividly when my dad bought me a book written by French engineer Eugène Aisberg, “La radio?.. Mais c’est tres simple!” (“Radio?.. It is very simple!”) I became fascinated with electronics from that time and I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was 10 years old.
SCN: After you received your degree in engineering from Cal Poly, you founded Extron Electronics. Later, you founded Inline and then Altinex. What was your vision in launching each of these companies?
JG: I started Extron right about the time movie Tron (Ex-Tron) was playing in theaters, the unemployment rate was 10 percent, and the interest rate was 18 percent. At the time, the AV industry as we know it today was limited to a few projector manufacturers and there was no way of connecting video signals from computers or terminals to these projectors. The movie Tron inspired me to work on products that made science fiction a reality. My vision for Extron was to design and manufacture video interface products.
When I started Inline in 1989, the AV industry had changed and there were several competitors on the market, including Extron. By that time, there were many different video standards that made designing AV systems problematic. My vision was to design products that bridged different video formats together and made system installations easier. Several products come to mind that made this possible: the universal analog/digital interface and universal matrix switcher. Remember that the word “digital” had a significantly different meaning at that time.
Altinex was started in 1993 with a single focus in mind: design products that would provide cutting-edge AV solutions. At that time, there were even more competitors, including Inline and Extron (Alt-In-Ex). My vision was not to design “me too” products, but instead to focus on innovative solutions that would change the industry’s paradigm. The goal was to develop products that break an established way of doing business.
Today, my vision is very different. I focus on people that make my every day experience exceptional: these are people I work with at Altinex, my friends, and my family.
Gershfeld designing his first interface 1983.
SCN: How do you feel your work has shaped the AV industry?
JG: It is comforting for me to look back and review the last 30 years of being in this industry. During this time, I have met many wonderful people and I had the pleasure of working with many of them on countless project and installations. I have also worked with great engineers, fantastic sales people, meticulous manufacturing folks, and diligent accounting personnel. All of them contributed to the success we had with the products we introduced.
The first interface “Blue Box - RGB101” changed the way dealers installed projectors, the first universal interface “IN2000” merged digital and analog video, the first universal ports matrix switcher “Pathfinder” changed the way we built AV systems, the first wall mounted interface took the industry by storm, and the first Table Top solution “PNP100” created its own market. All of these products were developed by people who worked with me at Extron, Inline, and people who work with me now at Altinex. They are the ones who shaped the AV industry by delivering products that changed the AV systems of today.
SCN: What drives your product development process?
JG: I am a big proponent of the ISO 9001:2008 quality system. Once in place, it allows for development of processes that drives product development. From the time an initial idea comes on a paper napkin to the time it is shipped to the customer, all is driven by a process clearly identified in ISO “Shall” requirements. The one thing that is missing from the ISO process is the creativity required to make a ‘Wow” product that becomes an industry catalyst. That can only come from people who are passionate about our industry and have the vision and courage to forge new frontiers. These people work for countless AV manufacturers, dealers, distributors, sales reps, and installers that have changed the landscape of the AV industry. These are the people who provide new ideas that drive our industry.
Gershfeld (right) accepting the ICIA award for best product in 1988.
SCN: What is the greatest challenge facing the AV industry?
JG: I think that the greatest challenge of the AV industry is the merging of consumer and professional equipment. Customers want “plug and play” solutions that meet their requirements. AV systems will become more sophisticated, more intelligent, and more user friendly. They will require less design and installation time. We are approaching the point where AV systems will be sold fully configured, pre-packaged, and ready to use out of the box.
Kirsten Nelson is the editor of SCN.