What got you interested in this business in the first place?
MICHAEL HEISS: It started in high school — I was on the AV Squad. Today it would be the Nerd Herd. Eventually I landed at Computer Television, which was the inventor of in-room hotel movies. At that point, pay-TV was in its infancy. We hardwired 15 Hilton hotels, including the Conrad Hilton, now the Chicago Hilton, which was then the largest hotel in the world. We ran RG 59 coax to every one of the 3281 rooms in that hotel. Thankfully, I didn’t do the installation, but the planning helped me learn to make sure that the union installers didn’t drill through the marble floors or the woodwork. That’s served me well.
In order to do the other part of that job, I did film-to-tape transfers. I worked in conjunction with one of the local production houses in New York and supervised the film transfers. Then they offered me a job and said, “Hey, you know this, you want to help us start a home video company?”
After my time there, a friend of mine from college offered me a job in the advertising and promotion department of NBC.
You joined Harman in 1988. CEDIA essentially begins with the first show in Florida in 1989. You were there at the beginning, right?
Well, actually, before that — the first formative meeting was at the old Summer CES (Consumer Electronics Show). Amelia Island was the first CEDIA Expo. It was mostly table-tops.
These two things dovetail into each other, right? Your experience at Harman and your experience with CEDIA?
What I did for CEDIA, even though I was one of the educators, I learned stuff that I was able to take back into my roles when I ran Harman Video and later as the vice president of marketing for Harman Kardon.
It was definitely something where CEDIA was a benefit to me, both where I helped CEDIA and the things I learned at CEDIA were able to help me make better business decisions. Not as a designer/installer, but as a product manager — I was able to learn from the CEDIA members that I dealt with to give them the merchandise and products that did what they wanted so that we could all make money.
You’ve spent a lot of time as a volunteer with CEDIA and you have spent time in the Board. What accomplishments throughout that experience are you really proud of?
During the time that I was on the Board, as well as my continued involvement in CEDIA, we went back and forth across the way the organization was organized, where we had separate, regional associations: CEDIA this, CEDIA that, and CEDIA somewhere else. That was cool because I got to go to a lot of places.
But the international expansion with CEDIA — which I was part of in a very small degree — was important. There were things that we did that people laugh at now. Fortunately, not too many people remember the CEDIA Dome. The idea for that was, “Let’s have an outreach to designers and architects.” That exhibit didn’t work out in terms of its impact the way we wanted it to, but it proved that we had to reach out to the home builders, the architects, and the designers. It laid the foundations for the outreach that CEDIA does do now to those communities, which has been very successful.
The other thing is the Tech Council. I’m a big fan of letting people know what they need to know as soon as they can possibly know it, from root sources. I think the Tech Council and the way that it helps keep the membership informed is maybe one of the most important things I’ve helped achieve.
How has your family shaped your trajectory through this career?
I have a very understanding wife. In fact, my wife Leslie is an architect. As an architect, a member of the AIA, she was very familiar with the awards process and she helped CEDIA get their judging system to where it is today. I benefit by having her at my side and so does CEDIA.