February 23, 2024

Sidney Harman, Newsweek Chairman, Is Dead at 92

The cause was complications of acute myeloid leukemia, according to a statement by the family that appeared on The Daily Beast. Family members said they learned of his illness only about a month ago.

For most of his life, Mr. Harman was known as the scientist-businessman who co-founded Harman/Kardon in 1953 and made high-quality audio equipment for homes and businesses, and later navigational and other devices for cars. He made a fortune, estimated by Forbes at $500 million in 2010, and gave millions to education, the performing and fine arts and other philanthropies.

But Mr. Harman, who was married to former Representative Jane Harman, a nine-term California Democrat who lost a 1998 California gubernatorial primary race largely financed by him, was also a golfing, tennis-playing health enthusiast who leaped out of bed every morning to do calisthenics, a scholar of boundless energy and utopian ideas, and something of a Renaissance man.

He studied physics, engineering and social psychology; was a classical music fan and jazz aficionado; recited Shakespeare by heart; was a civil rights and antiwar activist; created programs to humanize the workplace; was the president of a Quaker college on Long Island; served as President Jimmy Carter’s deputy secretary of commerce; published a memoir at 85; and was still active in business in his 90s.

In August 2010, two days before he turned 92, Mr. Harman, who had virtually no media experience, bought Newsweek from the Washington Post Company for a token $1 and some $47 million in liabilities. The Post had sought a deep-pocketed savior who might preserve Newsweek’s staff and standards.

Founded in 1933 and acquired by the Post Company in 1961, Newsweek had long trailed Time magazine in circulation and revenue but was known for serious print journalism. But bled by an exodus of staff members, readers and advertisers and under pressures of recession and Internet competition, the magazine had gone into a financial freefall, losing $30 million in 2009, and seemed rudderless and moribund.

After a shaky courtship, Mr. Harman and Barry Diller, The Daily Beast’s owner, agreed to a merger, with Mr. Harman as executive chairman and Tina Brown of The Beast — and of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair before that — as its editor. The two-year-old Web site was also losing millions. Critics called it a noble but impractical venture. Mr. Harman regarded it as the capstone challenge of his diversified career.

His stamp can be seen in the magazine’s pages, where a weekly column called “Connecting the Dots” was added at his suggestion, the name reflecting his view of a weekly news magazine’s role.

But its attempt to regain readers and advertisers has been a struggle. Figures released last week by the Publishers Information Bureau showed that the number of advertising pages in Newsweek fell 31 percent compared with the same three months last year.

Mr. Diller said Mr. Harman’s estate would assume control of his stake in the magazine.

“Three weeks ago, when he told me of his illness, he said he and his family wanted to continue as partners in Newsweek/Beast in all events,” Mr. Diller said. “We will carry on, though we will greatly miss his passionate enthusiasm and belief in the venture.”

Sidney Harman was born in Montreal on Aug. 4, 1918, and grew up in New York City, where his father worked at a hearing-aid company. The boy had a paper route and sold discarded magazines. He graduated from City College in 1939 with a degree in physics. He found an engineering job with the David Bogen Company, a New York maker of loudspeakers. After Army service in 1944-45, he returned to the company and by the early 1950s was general manager.

At a time when sophisticated hi-fi radio required a tuner to capture signals, a pre-amplifier, a power amp and speakers, Mr. Harman and Bernard Kardon, Bogen’s chief engineer, quit their jobs in 1953, put up $5,000 each and founded Harman/Kardon. It produced the first integrated hi-fi receiver, the Festival D1000.

It was hugely successful, and by 1956 the company was worth $600,000. Mr. Kardon retired, and in 1958 Mr. Harman created the first hi-fi stereo receiver, the Festival TA230. In later years, the company made speakers, amplifiers, noise-reduction devices, video and navigation equipment, voice-activated telephones, climate controls and home theater systems.

In the 1960s Mr. Harman was an active opponent of the Vietnam War, and for a year taught black pupils in Prince Edward County, Va., after public schools there were closed in a notorious effort to avoid desegregation. From 1968 to 1971 he was president of Friends World College, a Quaker institution in Suffolk County. In 1973 he earned a doctorate from the Cincinnati-based Union Institute and University.

In the early 1970s he created a program to provide employees at his Bolivar, Tenn., automotive parts plant with training, flexible hours and work assignments, stock ownership and other benefits that eased tensions with management and raised productivity. It was hailed as visionary and scorned as impractical. But President Carter was impressed, and made him deputy secretary of commerce. He served in 1977-78.

His first marriage, to the former Sylvia Stern, who is deceased, ended in divorce. He married the former Jane Lakes, who is 27 years his junior, in 1980. Besides Ms. Harman, he is survived by their two children, Daniel and Justine Harman, both of New York City; four children from his first marriage, Lynn, Gina and Paul Harman, all of New York City, and Barbara Harman, of Needham, Mass.; two stepchildren, Brian Frank and Hilary Peck, also of New York City; and 10 grandchildren.

Mr. Harman sold his company to avoid conflicts of interest during his government service, and bought it back a few years later at a profit. Renamed Harman International Industries, with headquarters in Stamford, Conn., he took it public in 1986, was chief executive until 2007 and retired as chairman in 2008. He joined the University of Southern California in 2008 as a polymath professor, lecturing on architecture, medicine, law, economics and other subjects.

He donated $20 million for the Shakespeare Theater Company’s Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, and was a trustee of the Aspen Institute, the California Institute of Technology, Freedom House, the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the National Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Harman was the co-author, with the pollster Daniel Yankelovich, of “Starting With the People” (1988), an analysis of national policies through a prism of public values. He also wrote an autobiography, “Mind Your Own Business: A Maverick’s Guide to Business Leadership and Life” (2003).

“He’s a man who needs a project,” his daughter, Barbara Harman, executive director of the Harman Family Foundation, said when he bought Newsweek. “He will die working — if he does die — and he’ll love every minute of it, because he’ll pick things to do that are worth doing.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d407cca558d63a3ea1c1131f01fbb4cc

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