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Most Influential People of Past 20 Years

Counting down the people who have shaped the CE community over the last two decades.

Julie Jacobson · January 23, 2013
Doherty continues today to preach the notion that focus equals profits. What he said back then still holds mostly true, although his company today does more than just lighting: “I love Lutron lighting control equipment. Lutron is my only vendor. Period. I evangelize the stuff and convince people to buy it. I supply the hardware, design work and engineering. I do all the programming. Then I leverage others to do the installations.”

One of Doherty’s most forgotten creations is Escient, developer of the first music management system. The Escient Tune Base would connect to a Sony CD changer via RS-232 and automatically read each CD’s table of contents, linking the discs to a database of albums, artists, cover art, songs, genres, and other data.

He continued to innovate in the nascent category by acquiring the CD Database aggregator CDDB, which became Gracenote – an enormous game changer.

Back in 2004, Cat Fowler (now Toomey), former colleague at Escient, said, “Tom is an undisputed leader and founding father of both ‘CE convergence’ and integration, and has been responsible for many of the most significant turning points in the history of the custom installation industry.”


14. Anthony Grimani, founder, PMI, Ltd.

Just because Tomlinson Holman built it (THX), doesn’t mean consumers would care about it, manufacturers would embrace it or installers would implement it. But they do, largely because of Anthony Grimani’s evangelism. A former audio engineer at Dolby Labs and Lucasfilm THX, Grimani founded PMI, Ltd. in 1999, inspiring integrators to push the envelope on sound. He teaches courses on home theater acoustics and calibration, designs exceptional demo areas in dealer showrooms, and most importantly brings passion to one of the few categories – audio – that can still be profitable.


15. Don Stewart, executive vice president, Stewart Filmscreen

Stewart Filmscreen is synonymous with high-quality video projection screens and Don Stewart has been the face of the company for more than two decades. While the rest of the world focused on video displays, Stewart taught the A/V community about the importance of high-quality contrast-enhancing screens. Today, the company is still known as the leading screen vendor for home theaters and large venues alike, claiming virtually all of the CE Pro 100 dealers as clients.

Related: Don Stewart Wins CEDIA Lifetime Achievement Award

Honorable Mentions
Eric Bodley – Integrator, CEDIA, Monster, PPC
Amar Bose – Founder of Bose
Bill Cawlfield – Executive at Xantech,SpeakerCraft
Paul Collins—Independent rep
Jay Faison – Founder/CEO of SnapAV
Yves Faroudja – Founder of Faroudja, father of the line doubler
Doug Fikse – CEO of OnQ (Now Legrand)
Bob Gartland – Co-founder and president, AVAD
Sandy Gross—Co-founder and president, Definitive Technology, Goldenear
Bill Hecht – Inventor of the soft-dome tweeter
Russ Herschelmann - home theater designer
Julie Jacobson - Co-founder/editor of EH Publishing
Maureen Jensen – Editor of Audio Video Interiors, Stereophile, Home Theater, Custom Retailer
Theo Kalomirakis – Founder of TK Theaters, home theater designer
Henry Kloss – Founder of Acoustic Research, Advent, Cambridge SoundWorks, TiVoli
Albert Langella – Founder of Audio Design Associates
Ken Kreisel – Co-founder of Miller & Kreisel (M&K)
Jeff Kussard – Audio King, Harman, Russound, CEDIA
Michael Malcolm – Founder/CEO of Kaleidescape
Scott Miller –Founder/CEO of AMX
Ken Moyes - Co-founder/CEO, EH Publishing
Duane Paulson – ITI/Interlogix/GE Security, Home Automation Association/CEA TechHome
Gary Shapiro – CEO of Consumer Electronics Association
Herb Seymour – Founder of Xantech
Richard Stoerger – COO of Audio Design Associates, champion of CEDIA
Floyd Toole – Harman International, renowned acoustical engineer
Larry Pexton – Founder of Triad
Mike Tsinberg – Founder/president of Key Digital, developer of DVD technology
Frank White - Channel Plus, CEDIA
Ivan Zuckerman – Founder of Niles Audio

16. Eric Johnson, product developer, instructor

If you’ve never worked with Eric Johnson or taken one of his classes, you probably know him as “just” another product development guy for some of the leading CE brands including Niles, Marantz, Audioplex, B&K and URC. But what really makes Johnson stand out is his evangelism of the user experience. He helped make products easy to use for the consumer; and he trained integrators to do the same.

“Eric was a fixture on the CEDIA top ten instructor list and did more work on the user experience side of our industry than anyone I know,” says Robert Ridenour, former integrator now with Elan Home Systems.


17. Tricia Parks, founder and CEO, Parks Associates

Tricia Parks created an industry by bringing stats to the table, making giant corporations believe that home automation was a viable industry, and convincing them to invest in the market. In the 1990s especially, Parks more than any other person set the home control industry in motion.

Founded in 1986, Parks Associates is still the leading research firm covering home technology. “Without her glowing industry data stats, few beyond the homebrew companies would have taken a look at this market segment,” says a survey respondent with the alias “nmsmartone.”


18. Joel Silver, president and founder, Imaging Science Foundation

Joel Silver is the president and founder of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), the company that sets the standards for video quality.

Founded in 1994, ISF famously created procedures for video calibration, and he now offers certifications for manufacturers and installers alike. His classroom training is legendary. Silver is “a major influence on home theater and movie theater quality,” says Lee Scoggins of the industry consulting firm Acxiom.


19. Bob Carver, founder, Sunfire

While Acoustic Research and Cambridge SoundWorks founder Henry Kloss edged out Bob Carver in our survey, we put Carver in the Top 20 because of his audio contributions in the custom channel. His original claim to fame was the 350 watts-per-channel Phase Linear 700 amp in the 1970s and a challenge to Stereophile in 1985 to pit any priced amp against Carver’s lower-cost model. He went on to found the subwoofer company Sunfire.

“Bob should be on the list for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the original ‘little box that rocks’ - the Sunfire True Sub,” says industry veteran Ricky Murphy, principal of IntegrationPros.

20. Daniel Tonks, founder,

Daniel Tonks got very few votes in our Top 20 poll, so we took some editorial license in placing him on the Top 20 list because of his major online influence. Tonks launched in 1998 during the convergence of two important movements: the Internet and infrared remote controls. He created a repository of IR codes, followed by RS-232 and IP command sets, and today the library remains the bible for DIYs and professionals alike.

Who is the Father of Home Automation?

With the exception of George Feldstein (Crestron), these home automation pioneers didn’t make our Top 20 but they were hugely influential in the home automation category.

Tom Riley: Pioneer of touchscreen-based home automation with the Unity System, still in operation in many homes today after more than two decades; leader in utility demand side management.

George Feldstein, Crestron: Popularized touchscreen-based home control and invested heavily in the category.

Scott Miller, AMX: Innovator in home control, and one of the most colorful personalities in the business; emphasized extreme customer service.

Bob Farinelli, Elan Home Systems: Visionary founder and accomplished engineer who was one of the first to invest heavily in high-end home control.

Jay McLellan, Home Automation Inc. (HAI): Purveyor of the first integrated security and home automation system, with possibly the most installs of any home automation vendor.

Peter Lesser, X10: Brought home automation to the masses with low-priced, easy-to-install power-lined based products; inspired better solutions such as UPB, Insteon and Z-Wave.

Future Predictions & Hopes

We asked the custom integration community to comment on the past 20 years, and predict where the next 20 years will take us. Their comments have been edited for clarity, length and grammar.

Combating Mass-Market Installers
Over the past 20 years the technological advancements in IP have changed the landscape significantly. The technology to control your home and distribute A/V has made it easier and less expensive for people.

I see DIY exploding in the next five years as IPv6 comes online. In addition, the traditional CAT V [cable] and security providers are going to learn how to sell and install this technology better than they do today, and it will continue to disrupt the traditional A/V integrator. If I were starting out now I would consider only targeting the very high end where DIY and low-tech CAT V and security providers can’t play and likely never will.

- Aaron Miller, formerly Magnolia Audio/Video and La Scala, Vancouver, BC

Whither the Art of Selling
I do think that the art of being a great salesperson has for the most part left the industry. It seems that too many in this industry don’t involve the customer in the buying process enough to get them excited. Too many buying decisions are made by reading “unbiased” reviews that at times are anything but. This industry needs to get back to telling the story of the product and the company it came from, and selling on a product’s merit, not solely on if it is the best “deal’” or not.

- Joel Russcher, Grand Home Automation, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Networks, LEDs, Pre-engineered Panels, Remote Monitoring, Life Safety
These days, changes are recognized in quick loading applications so my thoughts begin and end with the quality of the network. Over the past 20 years we’ve seen the non-existent network give way to today’s managed and robust networks, which are the backbone of every system out there today.

Security, led control, and panels that are pre-engineered, designed and installed that cut down on site deployment time are also in the cards. these developments, along with constant remote monitoring, are in the future and we are beginning to see it now.

I also believe that life safety systems will begin to look better in the overall picture in new construction starts - not just to meet code requirements, but also to have an aesthetic that is on par with architectural designs from the likes of truFIg, sonance, leon speakers and Crestron.

- Richard Hollander, Performance Imaging, Stamford, Conn.

I sure hope there are more women.

- Anonymous

Internet of Things
Big data and the use of it, along with extreme personalization and the empowerment of the end user, is the largest trend – that and the rise of the Internet of everything.

- Robert Heiblim, BlueSalve

Relationships vs. Gadgets
The past five years have been the most impactful. Dealers and manufacturers have been forced to sell again and that has helped to bring the cream to the top and leave others in the dust. This more “difficult” time has proven that building relationships, earning respect and maintaining profitability is much more important to the industry than the next, well-lit gadget.

- AVPro Alliance

Digital Bugs
Once systems went digital they became more issue-prone. Long gone are the days of installing a system and not hearing back from the client. Today’s systems are inherently buggy and require firmware upgrades, rebooting and occasional upgrading. Also the skillset needed to be of value to your clientele has gotten much more specialized in IT and networking. With shrinking margins and Internet pricing, making a profit has gotten more difficult. The good news is there is more business now than ever before.

- Anonymous

Digital music is bad. Does anyone listen to good-sounding music anymore or is it just MP3?

- Joe Fyffe, AV Excellence, Colorado Springs, Colo.

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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