Recently, there was a disturbance in the Canadian Consumer Electronics Industry "Force". The man most of us knew fondly as "Mr. Technics" died at his new home Prince Edward County. In a message I received from his wife Betsy, she said, "He has had a number of medical issues which he has been able to overcome. However; not this time."
As the word spread though the digital ether, many no doubt reflected upon their many, and varied, relationships with this remarkable man.
If you'll indulge me, these are some of mine.
I joined Matsuhista Electric of Canada Limited mid-career, in the Consumer Products Division as assistant advertising manager. This gave me pretty wide access to the entire divisional marketing group, since my many roles encompassed working with every product group. Art was the technical/sales training guru of the Audio Group.
To simply say that the Art I knew was a "techie" does disservice to his vast knowledge and historical bases, not only for the Panasonic and Technics brands, but many, if not most, categories within the industry overall. When, as often happened, a new usually pre-production model of almost anything crossed his desk, he would first see how it worked, sounded, or operated. Hooking it up to whatever peripherals were necessary to see, hear, or watch the goings-on. Assessing how the remote worked, IF the control sequences were logical to a North American consumer, its physical appearance, both powered, and off.
Then out came the screw/nut/fastener removal tools, and very soon after, the new piece would be laid out upon his desk, innards, and secrets, revealed. A magnifying glass was next, and Art would zone in on particular circuits, mechanisms, and anticipated or new features to be carefully studied.
Not coming from "the Industry", my own knowledge of CE at the outset was, to be kind (to me) minimal. At best. But, in my position, I needed to know which of often many features and benefits of a particular model, line, or brand were salient for my role in helping prepare the necessary materials to assist both "sell-in" to a nationwide dealer network, and "sell-through" to the end user. I also needed to know how the myriad of products we offered actually worked, and what would be important to the end-user. Art, and his colleagues, John, Brian, and Roxanne were my "go-to" folks on anything to do with cobbling together the material needed to do so.
With their help, and my admitted "toy fetish," I was a pretty quick study.
I remember Art mentioning one day, in passing, that his then most recent trip to "the factory" in Japan was his 37th. I was blown away. Sometime later, that moment became startlingly impressive during a walk we had together through the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago - remember CES/Chicago?
I walked beside him and listened carefully while he mused aloud at the importance of the many competitive products, technologies, and incremental improvements being made. And realized that his knowledge of the history of the CE Industry, worldwide was as vast as his immediate and specific knowledge of "his" products. As always, I did my level best to soak up his huge experience.
Along the way, he was approached by a Japanese gentleman, who greeted Art with no small amount of enthusiasm. Art was equally effusive, BUT in a restrained way I did not immediately understand. It was only after they had spoken briefly, Art then introduced me. He advised that the gentleman was the Head of Technics for the global company. And that they had known, and so obviously to me, deeply respected each other, for many years.
A part of my role was media relations and doing so brought me in contact with both specialist CE journalists and "the press" in general. Often inviting the "fourth estate" to previews or regular dealer events, held to introduce the new, sell-in the existing, or clear the old.
I recently spoke to Andrew Marshall, long-time owner/publisher and editor of Audio Ideas Guide, and, from my perspective, a bit of an Industry Icon himself.
Andrew wrote, " I just have good memories of many contacts over the years I ran AIG - lunches, shows, and how great an ambassador he was for Technics, and Panasonic in general. He was definitely someone I always enjoyed seeing, a true friend in our industry, as well as being a very charming and sincere person. He was just about the best product and PR person of the many I dealt with, and you and Art made a great team...and you may quote me on that!"
Proper, well-earned praise for Art; and embarrassing for me...
In order for me to clearly understand the very many products we offered, and especially how they fit as part of a retail mix, I actively helped with the set-up of these events; learning along the way proper unpacking, and repacking procedures, and connecting the various pieces in order for the many, sometimes obscure, features to be easily demonstrable. Art, and Brian, were wizards and I was able to quickly learn from them the easiest, and often the best, ways to put together systems that showed off these highly technical products well to our retailer customers. And, when was often needed as these things got very busy, demonstrate them myself.
In fact, not too long after joining the company, I went to Art with the sad admission that I had NEVER heard a CD, and could not understand what all the fuss was about. Immediately, he asked that I close his door, and reached into his desk, producing a compact disc from his "office" collection. With a CD player and small receiver (always) at hand, he promptly played the shiny plastic disc. And, I was gobsmacked. We listened for about 10 minutes as my eyes went from normal, to very wide, and back; finally giving me an understanding. Art, for his part, just smiled his knowing, but supportive - never, ever condescending - smile, and said to come back any time. For anything.
But, Art's vast knowledge was not just "technical". He had what I felt was an abiding respect for the Japanese way of conducting business and most of all, its unique culture; taking great pains to educate me - actually knocking off several rough edges of my, er "aggressive" at the time, personality - in the wonderful subtlety, and nuances, absolutely needed when engaging with our many guest managers from the various factories, who rotated through every group in the entire company honing their own "foreign" experience.
It was he who taught me that, as a lower rank on the Divisional hierarchy, I would do myself well by observing the oft misunderstood niceties of the Japanese culture. He taught me a few words, some elementary manners, and far more, which enabled me to widen and strengthen my working relationships with many of the Japanese executives at the company. Notably the president with whom I had many dealings when it came to media relations, and as part of a North American team, employee, and community outreach. And who, I personally, observed recognized the depth of Art's knowledge, strength of personality, and inborn ethical beliefs.
Another personal perspective of Art comes from Al Love, who during my time with the company was sales manager for the Ontario region. His initial introduction to Art went like this:
"I was 24 having just taken over Technics Toronto. I sat before a happy gentleman, bound and determined to turn a green Technics rep into a consumer electronics engineer. Well, it did not go real well, but I remembered .707 of a sine wave represents "root mean square" or "rms" for true amplifier output measurement, plus wow and flutter, the slow and fast fluctuations on turntables and cassette decks."
I know Art considered me a work in progress, and we became great friends. But, it took years with limited success, but always with him to turn to, for me to I hone my feature/benefit story into selling truckloads. During those years, I came to admire the most knowledgeable and gifted product trainer in Canada if not North America.
In fact, I sincerely HOPE Art gets nominated for the "CES" Hall of Fame, because no CE product trainer deserves it more!
It seemed that Art knew no real boundaries to his ability to pass along his vast knowledge and passions. Be it technical, OR culinary. Art, along with John, also introduced my then-young son to the culinary nirvana that is sushi, and sashimi. A lesson, and memory, that has stayed with my son for well over 25 years now. And a passion that he is passing along to his kids.
Art, after one of his many trips to Japan, very kindly introduced me to another of his Japanese favourites - Santori Scotch Whisky. My upbringing fairly screamed that there could be NO true scotch whisky but that made of the Highlands' grain, malt, peat and water. Wow! One sip showed me in no uncertain terms just how I wrong I was in that. I made that gifted bottle last as long as possible; mostly only trotting it out to allow others who favoured the malt, a palette opening experience.
After I left the company, Art was asked to conceive and head up a truly responsive customer care service for Canada. As I recall stories from his many colleagues, he approached the task with the excited fervour of an Acapulco cliff diver, setting new standards for not only the CE Industry, but manufacturers in general. It was a more groundbreaking effort on his part.
Mr Technics was far deeper into technology than many knew. He was an avid HAM Radio aficionado, and when he moved with Betsy to "the County" he added a large, architecturally correct two-story garage and "out building" to the property they acquired. I now think that his sole, and true purpose for the endeavour was the construction of the full second-floor HAM shack, from where Art contacted, and stayed so, with the world.
Although I never took the opportunity to visit, Art and Betsy committed themselves to both significant, and widely recognized, renovations to the main house, earning a local historical appreciation award for their tenacious adherence to the building's, and the area's history.
Pictures of the stunning results almost immediately take one's mind back a century, or more, to a time when "grand" houses were not the rage, but just WERE.
Even as late as three years ago, I reached out to Art for his guidance on the purchase of our second big-screen high-definition television. The first one, an "Art Recommended" model still worked, then and today, as if it had just been properly unboxed. It lives beside the fireplace in our finished basement. His firm recommendation for "number 2" has pride of place above the second gas fireplace in our family room today.
For several years after I moved on from the company, Art, Al Love, myself, plus various other "alumni" met periodically for lunch at a mutually "local" establishment. Others, like Alan Field, joined in from time-to-time. Art drove in from "the County," adding the event to other appointments or activities he had in "the City." And latterly, I would haul down Airport Road from Wasaga Beach where we had "officially" retired.
Somehow, along the way, as times, circumstances, and lives changed, we regretfully fell out of practice in getting together. Those now forever-missed opportunities will sadden me for a long time to come.
To me, and I expect everyone he encountered, Art was always easy-going, readily drawn to smile, and a gently effusive person who was not only VERY easy to like, but one who, in a heartbeat earned the spot of "friend". And equally, honoured them the same.
For me, he was a dear friend, personally admired and deeply respected colleague, happy to be my teacher, cultural and culinary mentor, and bottomless well of many, many sources of knowledge and experience. ALWAYS both willing, and happy, to share.
He IS, and will always be, one of those "points of light" that only some are lucky to have come into their lives. He came into mine. I am grateful that, for once, I was smart enough to let him in.
Now, and sadly, some last thoughts:
Over the years, I have come to know, not well, but well enough through of all places, Facebook, his wife Betsy. A very able equestrian in her own right. And, for some time now, her prime mount has been a gorgeous, tawny beast she named "Arthur."
In every picture I have seen of this magnificent animal, his strength, intelligence, pride ,and confident bearing shows through. It is as clear as Waterford Crystal.
Not unlike the man who is his namesake. Along with an entire domestic and international industry, Art, I will miss you...
(L-r) John Vanneste, Al Love, Art Sinclair, and Art's wife, Betsy. Photo: courtesy of Panasonic Canada, taken at a reunion in 2013.