Harman International is best known as an audio electronics maker, owning numerous brand names targeting consumers and professionals, including AKG, Crown, dbx, Harman Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson, and Revel. As old-school “car stereos” have evolved in recent years into multifunction “infotainment systems,” Harman has also become a major player in automotive electronics.
On January 22, Harman announced its acquisition for $170 million of Red Bend Software, which is the leading provider of software and services for Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) updating for mobile devices and automobiles. (See press release here.) Harman simultaneously announced its acquisition of software services firm Symphony Teleca, although Red Bend has more interesting implications for IoT.
Back in 2004, Harman had acquired for $138 million QNX Software Systems, developer of the real-time operating system QNX Neutrino, as well as a number of other embedded software solutions which have since become especially popular in the automotive market. Fast forward to 2010 when Harman sold off QNX for $200 million to Research In Motion (RIM, since re-named Blackberry Limited for its line of mobile phones). At the time, Harman said about its sale of QNX, “This move allows Harman to continue its relationship with QNX and the advanced software solutions it provides to Harman and our customers. At the same time, this deal achieves value for all stakeholders and is an important step in a new strengthened relationship with RIM.”
Perhaps Harman’s sale of QNX was influenced by economic conditions during the Great Recession, but it leads us back to Harman’s acquisition of Red Bend, and it raises a few questions:
- Would Harman have been able to leverage synergy between Red Bend and QNX in the automotive market if it had retained ownership of both? If not, why not? If so, might the value of such synergy have outweighed the gains realized by selling QNX?
- What value does Harman now see in Red Bend that it no longer saw in QNX?
- Considering that much of Red Bend’s current business is in the mobile phone industry, does Harman view Red Bend as a stepping stone into that market?
- What would it take for Harman to believe that a potential future sale of Red Bend might “achieve value” for stakeholders and produce “a new strengthened relationship”?
We‘ll leave these questions for readers to ponder for themselves