John Harber -Sony Ericsson

Hard evidence that there’s life after the call centre: John Harber owes his single-company career to a vacation job at a Sony call centre in his student days. Fifteen years on, he’s UK MD at Sony Ericsson – a self-confessed gadget fan, hater of dummy phones, and enthusiast for independent retail …
Successful careers are built on adapting to change and seeking new challenges. That usually means moving from company to company; but that’s not the case with John Harber, Sony Ericsson’s UK Managing Director.

He linked up with Sony in 1990 when a Business Studies student at Swansea. “It was a vacation job in the call centre at Thatcham. I enjoyed it. I learned what made the company tick and what hit the hot button with customers. A more conventional student job – flipping burgers at McDonald’s, say, would never have given the same opportunities.”

Following graduation in 1993, Harber joined Sony’s marketing department for an intensive grounding in product management, marketing communications and finance. “The products struck a chord, too, as we moved from analogue to digital TV.”

In 1998 he began a two year term running the UK chain of independently-owned but corporate-branded Sony Centres.

“I was then fortunate enough to get through seven rounds of tough competition with several hundred Sony people worldwide to win a place at the Anderson School, part of UCLA, to study for my master’s degree. It’s in the global top ten business schools and intensive case study analysis of how multinationals tackled a wide range of issues was invaluable.

“I worked too hard to really adapt to  the American lifestyle but I became a  basketball fan.”

"We are selling products that really do make  a life-enhancing difference … "

On returning home in 2001, work in corporate restructuring led him to Berlin where Sony’s European President offered him a secondment. “It was a great chance to play a part in top level decision making from future planning to factory siting, sales and IT. I then returned to the UK as General Manager for Mobile and IT products covering everything from Vaio laptops, to Walkman, to SatNav before taking up my present role.”

Harber was well travelled when young. Born in Bristol, he later spent five years in Saudi Arabia, where his father sold cars. “There was a large expat community, none of the tension that affects the Middle East today, and I had a great time. I never did master Arabic, however, beyond, ‘hello,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘how much’.”

He admits to being an enthusiastic, if inept, golfer. “There is no danger of me ever throwing a shot to let a customer win.” When it comes to Boys’ Toys, however, he’s much more in control.

“Our staff discount makes it easy to be self indulgent. My wife, Liz, sighs when yet another flat screen TV arrives. At our town house near Richmond we’re completely wired for sound and vision. There’s a 120in front projector with surround sound and a wireless network. If it was turned on to force 10 the neighbours would ask for an ASBO.”

His obsession with sports cars and performance bikes is on hold. “We love our home but it lacks a driveway and garage so I can’t risk having elitist transport beaten up on the road. But I did hire a Harley to drive the Pacific Highway from LA to San Francisco last year. I compromise with a Honda S2000 whose lack of traction control makes it easy to strip the tyres.”

He wants to see more of Latin America. “Liz and I had a delayed honeymoon trekking in the Peruvian Andes. We missed the excitement of being kidnapped by Shining Path guerrillas and crossed over into Venezuela a week after an abortive revolution. We found the journey fascinating and really want to go back.”

Few things irritate the unflappable Harber, but seeing dummy phones on display is one. “We are not selling a commodity item – we are selling products that really do make a life enhancing difference. That’s why independent dealers are so important. If you want to see a value add feature in action it has to be demonstrated professionally and dealers are best placed to do that. That’s why we support them in every way we can.”

And his own dream value add product? “A laser controlled putter.”

PERSONAL FILE
My team
I’m a fourth-generation Arsenal fan
My sports Golf. I like to get round in double figures
My car Honda S2000. If I ever get a large garage, who knows?
My music Rock
My dream holiday Latin America would yield dozens
 
TRACK RECORD
1993 – 1998
Product Manager, Sony Marketing
1998 – 2000
In charge of Sony Centres retail stores
2000 – 2001
Master’s Degree at UCLA
2001 – 2003
Seconded to strategic management role, Berlin
2003 – 2005
General Manager, Mobile and IT Products, Sony Ericsson
2006 –
UK Managing Director, Sony Ericsson