Name: Russell Gentner
Title: Co-Founder, President, CEO
Company: Listen Technologies
Overtime: Gentner created his first product as his senior thesis: a telephone talk-show interface (telephone hybrid).
SCN: What events led you to begin your career in technology?
Russell Gentner: The simple answer is my love of music. In my school days, I latched on to my brother’s record player. I couldn’t get enough of the music and the sound that it produced. From there, I got into tape recording and the technology around it.
When I attended the University of Utah to get my electrical engineering degree, I became involved in student radio. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I loved radio, the music, the culture, and the technology. This led me to create my first product as my senior thesis: a telephone talk-show interface (a telephone hybrid).
SCN: As an electrical engineer, you began your career in radio broadcast. How did this lead you to launch your own technology manufacturing enterprise only five years later?
RG: Once I graduated, I started working at KSL Radio in Salt Lake City. In those days, radio stations made a lot of their own products. And thus, I was involved in designing and creating products used by the radio station. I also started building telephone hybrids for other stations.
It dawned on me one day that my strength was not in engineering; rather, it was in the conceptualization of ideas and solutions. I realized I was born to be an entrepreneur. So, I started Gentner Communications (now ClearOne). At Gentner, I did what comes naturally to me: I listened to the needs of customers and led our company to develop solutions to fill those needs. We started with telephone hybrids and then branched into transmitter remote controls and audio processing. Eventually, we saw the need for acoustic echo cancellers for telephone and video conferencing. Honestly, the process was a very natural one.
My “serial” entrepreneurship continued when Cory Schaeffer, Keldon Paxman, and I started Listen Technologies Corporation. We took all we had learned at Gentner and focused it on wireless assistive listening products that enable personal listening in difficult environments.
Listen Technologies’ Russell Gentner first became involved in student radio at the University of Utah, later leading to a job at a Salt Lake City radio station where he was involved with designing and creating products the station used.SCN: You’ve served on the InfoComm Board of Governors and the Leadership Search Committee. What would you advise others in the industry about giving back in such a way?
RG: Serving in the InfoComm association is not just a way to give back to our industry. For me, it is a learning and growing experience. It also has helped me build relationships with some pretty awesome people. My advice is to get involved and find your niche in the industry. There are many, many ways to contribute. If you don’t know where to start, just ask. There are people willing to share their own experiences. It benefits both the industry and those who do get involved.
SCN: Ever the entrepreneurial engineer, you once again identified a technological development opportunity and co-founded Listen Technologies in 1998. What business advantages have come with remaining focused within a specific technological category across a broad range of applications?
RG: If there is one lesson that I have to learn over and over, it’s focus. Staying focused on wireless assistive listening allows us to continue to listen to our customers (and their customers) to develop solutions to improve the experiences of all our customers (consultants, dealers, venues, and end users). This customer-centered focus enables us to continue to innovate and expand solutions that truly help people have an improved listening experience. At the end of the day, the key business advantage of a laser focus on a specific technological category is the ability to be the clear leader.
SCN: What’s on the horizon for the newly rebranded Listen Technologies?
RG: We’re continuing to innovate and develop new solutions for our customers. Our new brand is representative of our expanding commitment and investment in more and better assistive listening solutions. You’ll see a number of new solutions coming from our core wireless technologies of RF, IR, and Loop. Our new iDSP product line is the company’s most successful launch ever, based on the almost instantaneous sales ramp-up. The most interesting introduction was our recent announcement of ListenWiFi. We are shipping products that allow you to use your smart phone for assistive listening. Now you can go to the gym and use your cell phone to listen to the TV while you’re on the treadmill. The possibilities are expansive, and we are excited to be leading the way for our customers, channel partners, and industry.
Kirsten Nelson is editor of Systems Contractor News.