PHILADELPHIA: A focus on innovation and the scrapping of silos have been key to the turnaround at Harman International, according to its chairman, president and CEO.

Dinesh Paliwal, who occupies all three of those seats, explained to Knowledge@Wharton how destroying the silos at the audio-to-connected-car business had been his first priority.

"We had nothing but silos," he said. "Each brand was a company. They were so silo-driven that they had no standard email exchange."

So a unified communication network was created with Paliwal delivering weekly company-wide letters to employees keeping them abreast of what was happening. "I told them how bad certain things were. I also gave them respect for the company's legacy."

Part of this openness involved the very clear advice that cost reduction, while necessary, would only take the company so far.

"If we don't innovate, it means we do not create value," he said. "It's value that customers are willing to pay for."

But, he added, innovation is not just about a new scientific idea.

"Innovation is about processes. Innovation is about how you do customer service better. How do you run projects more efficiently in an innovative [way]?"

And the company is going about that in various ways, including the creation of an innovation studio and the use of internal crowdsourcing. "We have the power of 27,000 people, so we're getting ideas," Paliwal said.

"Initially people thought they won't care. When they started to see that we select (the best ideas), the funnel gets shorter and shorter. Then we started rewarding the people who were coming up with ideas."

Currently, Harman is especially engaged in "trying to bridge Silicon Valley and the car companies", with the former taking a test-and-learn approach while the latter prefer to deploy proven technologies.

Paliwal noted that this area is moving incredibly quickly: driverless cars are a reality and will soon be on public roads.

"Once you free up a lot of time from driving, you need to bring in all the office productivity," he said. "So we launched Office 360 in the car, Microsoft, audio/video conferencing, your Outlook calendar, totally synced. You now have an intelligent assistant with you in the car, keeping you on track and interactively working with you.

"So this is where our research is going – cognitive load."

Data sourced from Knowledge@Wharton; additional content by Warc staff