50th Anniversary: Reg Garratt

Reg Garratt

Reginald Garratt 

Raised in Birmingham, England, Reg studied Mechanical Engineering at Aston and graduated in 1951. On completing his military service, he began working on guided missile development and afterwards joined Honeywell Inc; an American company. At Honeywell he rose through the ranks to become a Divisional Manager of Marketing in the US before being headhunted in 1977 to join Knowles Electronics Inc; the world’s leading manufacturer of hearing aid microphones and receivers, as Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Over the next 20 years, Reg became President of Knowles Electronics Inc; then CEO and Chairman. During his leadership Knowles Electronics expanded from a 25% share of the world’s hearing aid transducer sales, to 85%. In 1999 Reg directed the sale of the company for $530 Million and retired in 2003 at age 73. 

Subsequently, Reg has invested and founded several companies focused on hearing impairment. His initial investment was in the world’s first FDA approved fully automated hearing test equipment. He has since been involved in numerous hearing related projects and more recently an invention of his will allow a General Physicians assistant to produce a patient’s audiogram in just five minutes.

During his career, Reg was President of the Better Hearing Institute, Washington DC and Director of “Hear Now” an audiology charity serving the hearing impaired.

Now an American citizen, Reg is married to his wife Gail and has three sons and eight grandchildren.

Why did you choose to study at Aston University?

At age 16 in 1946 I knew that I needed to improve my education to advance myself. At that time my cousin was working hard and studying for his Higher National Certificate. His dedication to his studies really impressed me and with his help I found that Aston offered an engineering study programme. After visiting Aston College, I was accepted as a day release Mechanical Engineering student. 

What is your fondest memory of your time at Aston?

The number of friendships I made with people such as myself who were studying to get ahead. Aston was a great help to me during this period of my life and I believe I would not have succeeded nearly as well without Aston. 

During my studies at Aston the Professors, or Masters as they were called then, did their best to teach a group of young men and women to make something of their lives. 

What has your experience with Aston given you personally?

The most important thing was that it gave me confidence in my ability to learn and to assimilate information. Later I was exposed to other opportunities and found the discipline of learning invaluable.

What do you think are Aston's greatest achievements?

It’s conversion from a strictly technically orientated college in an old somewhat stately building in the town of Aston, to a leading British university. Aston University has done remarkably well and I was surprised and heartened by the fact Aston now offers a medical degree. 

I have had the good fortune of seeing the major change in Aston University, one of the benefits of living to 87! Very few people have been enrolled at the inception of a major University.

This year, over 3000 students will be graduating from Aston. If you could give them some advice as they start their career journey, what would it be?

Learning for its own sake is stimulating, but applying ones learning in a practical and meaningful way to enhance one’s life and to benefit others is more important. Go out and do something useful with your learning, go out and help others as well as yourself. 

Second, along with keeping an eye on the future make short range plans, no more than a year and set yourself achievable and realistic objectives. Then go do it. Don’t plan too far ahead, because unexpected opportunities will occur. 

Finally, always choose a career that you know you will love. So many people I know chose a career that turned out to have little challenge. I don’t see enthusiasm in their eyes when I meet them. So pick a career that you can be passionate about.

Can you tell us more about your journey since Aston?

When I left Aston, I was a “Mechanical Engineer”, albeit inexperienced. Immediately thereafter I was called up for my National Service, which was a 2 year mandatory military service. The army had a way of applying aptitude tests which revealed to them that I was more suited to electronics and radar than building bridges. They turned out to be right. Fortunately I excelled in the field of electronics and I became an instructor in the army teaching radar theory for two years. 

After leaving the army I was offered an exciting job in missile development. This was at the cutting edge of the very latest technology, bringing together many sciences including the mechanical engineering I learned at Aston. My job gave me my first chance to manage a relatively small team of about 5 or 6 people. In 1956 we developed the weapon which was called the British FireFlash and this air to air guided weapon shot down a drone aeroplane, which was a world first. It was reported on the BBC 6pm Pathe news, a big deal in those days. 

We were told that the cost of each FireFlash weapon system was £25,000, a lot in those days. To keep costs down we would very carefully fire only a few weapons necessary to gain the scientific data we needed. Meanwhile, our American missile competitors, who were testing their similar product at Aberporth in Wales, were firing off many more weapons. This made me wonder, where does all their money come from? I remember thinking that one day I need to look for an opportunity with an American company. 

My opportunity came in 1960 when I became a Sales Engineer for Honeywell Inc; Birmingham Office. After a while I was promoted to various assignments and finally moved to Honeywell’s International Division, which enabled me to travel all over the world. By this time, I was married with three small children. In 1969 I was appointed Managing Director of Honeywell’s African operations. It was very interesting managing a company thousands of miles away from the head office in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My team and I were successful and the company was profitable, all in all a great experience for me. Four years later I was transferred to Honeywell USA as a Manager of Marketing. During the next 5 years I became an American citizen, but continue to retain my British passport. 

In 1977 I was headhunted by a leading US acoustic scientist and inventor Dr. Hugh Knowles, then aged 74, to join his company Knowles Electronics inc. At that time Knowles held 25% of the world’s hearing aid acoustics transducer market and was the world leader in acoustic R&D and electronics for hearing aids. Hugh Knowles became ill and over the next 10 years he became less active until he died.  

My first job was Vice President for Sales and Marketing and over the next 20 few years, I was progressively promoted to President, and finally CEO and Chairman.

Knowles had the largest R&D facility in the hearing industry, and I opened up factories in US, UK, China, Taiwan, and Malaysia. During my earlier career I had managed an advanced marketing research programme and had hired a leading expert in the field Dr. Gamil Chelico, so one of the first things I did when I moved to Knowles was hire two PhD. researchers to work with Northwestern University and Ohio State University to study the behavior of the US hearing impaired population. Much of this work became industry reference standard. Also during my leadership Knowles acquired operations in the automotive business as well as developed the world’s first silicon microphone, a low cost yet high quality design used in the majority of mobile phones today. In 1999, the Board of Directors asked me to divest the company which I did by selling it to a British finance company for $530 million. 

Since then, I have invested in numerous inventions mostly in the field of hearing impairment. One investment was in the worlds first FDA approved full range automated audiometer. As stated previously my latest project is to produce an FDA approved automated audiometer with a number of features targeting the major psychological problem of denial and which can accomplish a Pure Tone test in 5 minutes when used by a physicians assistant.

General guidelines are essential in long term success, but be receptive to the new exciting opportunities which will arise. That is why I do believe it is critical to create short term goals and not rely on a long term plan.

In July 2017, you will be receiving an honorary degree from Aston. How does this make you feel?

I am delighted and humbled and can only say thank you to Aston University for this fine honour.