Audiology Pioneers in Hearing Aid Manufacturing – II Richard Scott

This is a second part of the history of audiology pioneers in hearing aid manufacturing and features recollections by Richard Scott, one of the pioneers.  The first part featured history as recalled by Robert Briskey, M.A.  Following Briskey’s historical recollections, I had a note from Larry Mathieu who mentioned that he was a part of the Audiology Study Group that Briskey had started in Wisconsin.

Richard Scott, M.A.

I was awarded my Masters Degree in Speech and Hearing in 1965 from the University of Southern California (USC). I was working at the Otologic Medical Group (OMG), now known now as the House Ear Institute. I had worked there beginning in my senior year at the USC as an audiometrist and then as an audiologist while completing my masters. I worked there for one year after I received my Masters degree.

Otologic Medical Group

As a Clinical Audiologist at the OMG, my days were mostly filled with basic air, bone and speech testing for surgical workups for otosclerosis. The OMG was one of the most respected clinics in the world for hearing-related issues, and we were always very busy. We had a ready room where the audiologists and audio techs stayed waiting for the light to flash as a clue that a patient was in one of the ten testing booths and ready for a hearing evaluation. We had an honor system as to whose turn it was to conduct the next test. There were about eight audiologists employed when I left OMG, the majority of whom spent most of their time on basic testing; air, bone, and speech tests. There were some interesting testing opportunities, such as the site of lesion testing for tumors and occasional research studies, but there was one restriction and that was you were not allowed to discuss the results of any of the test results with the patient.

The only, somewhat, professional part of the job to me was the hearing aid evaluation. We had drawers for each manufacturer who would consign hearing aids to us for use in our evaluations. Using live voice speech tests, we would compare the results of the instruments we selected as appropriate for these clients, and we would select the one that provided the best SRT and discrimination scores and send the patient to one of the favorite dispensers on our list in this area. We did get to discuss the problem and the solution with the client, but it was deemed unethical to complete the job and provide the hearing aids. As a result, we never provided a complete service.

I could not see myself being subservient to the physicians all of my working life. I did a lot of thinking about how I could use my education in a meaningful way. I discussed setting up a private audiology practice with my supervisors, and they both said it would be a financial disaster. I now believe that might not have been the reality, just their uninformed perception.

What was I to do to get out of this dead-end situation? At that time Charlotte Dempsey was also working at the OMG (House Clinic) and told me of her experience working for a manufacturer. She had worked at Zenith with Bob Briskey for a very short time. So I thought that maybe I could really be valuable to a hearing aid manufacturer and have the growth potential I did not have in the clinical area. I wanted to use my education in a meaningful way, and the commercial side seemed to be a likely area.

There were few audiologists in the commercial area in the 60’s, and all knew each other.{{1}}[[1]]Editor’s note: On the dispensing forefront was Don Schaefer in Madison, WI, a graduate school classmate of Jim Curran and Wayne Staab at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but not an audiologist. Don was a mentor and investor to what might be the first audiological dispensing clinics run by Jim Curran, Otis Whitcomb, Mel Sorkowitz, and John Schuneman.  Outside of this were audiologists like Don Northy in Denver and Barry Elpern, in the Palo Alto CA area. All of these gentlemen were really ahead of their time with respect to audiologists dispensing hearing aids and bore the wrath of many of the traditional audiologists and definitely the powers that ran the American Speech and Hearing Association when it came to audiologists actually selling hearing aids. They were strong to withstand the criticism and the unreasonable involvement of that Association. We hope to provide additional background on these early pioneers of hearing aid dispensing by audiologists. At the dispensing level, none of these were able to maintain their membership and certification in ASHA. In at least one case – Elpern – the removal of membership was handled in a very unprofessional manner by the Association).[[1]] As I mentioned above, Dempsey and Briskey were with a manufacturer of hearing aids – Zenith, and operating in the “professional” area. They were respected, but not totally trusted, by the rank and file in audiology. Bill Carver was also working with Beltone in the 1960s in a “professional relationship.” I believe that I was the first audiologist to join a hearing aid manufacturer in a commercial or sales capacity.

Qualitone

I wrote seven manufacturers and interviewed with two, Siemens and Qualitone. I was offered a job at Qualitone with a $4,000 pay cut, but still, I wanted to try the industry. Dick Burger was the president of Qualitone, and he said if I really wanted to know the business, I should start in the retail area. He placed me with a dealership in San Jose, California.

The dealership was what we called a manpower organization in those days, which meant it was a company that did a great deal of advertising to obtain leads for the sales force to follow up with. This was really the Beltone model at that time. It was a real shock when I arrived at the hearing aid office for my internship in retail sales and met my boss, the GM of the company. When he opened his mouth, there was not a tooth in his head. At that moment I wondered if I had picked the right direction for my future. It turned out that he was going through major dental work, and he was a great guy and wonderful source of information and training.

It was very different than being a traditional audiologist because no one came to you as they did in the medical office. I was given basic training and a handful of leads and addresses of potential clients and was sent out with a portable audiometer to sell some hearing aids. It was difficult since no one really wanted to admit they had a hearing problem, yet alone wear a big banana over their ear or a beautiful set of eye glass instruments that made their ears stick out and put a major indentation in their nose. It took quite a while to get my first sale, and then it became a little easier. I did find that my fellow “peddlers” could benefit from my knowledge of acoustics and hearing aid fitting. I gave some instruction on earmold acoustics and other aspects of shaping the response curve of the hearing aid at our sales meetings that helped to save sales by making the customers more comfortable and improve the benefit of the hearing aid for them.

After this internship of several months, I was called to the factory in Minneapolis to start my real job as Director of Special Instruments. We did make a portable audiometer – 23 pounds, which I carried around the USA for 4 years. That was as “special” as our instruments were. I did have input to development of the subsequent models, and the Acoustic Appraiser became the audiometer and fitting standard for the retail industry for years.

I had already learned a lot about the problems the hearing aid dealers ran into, and we, as a company, started disseminating information to help with ways to better fit hearing aids. I ran seminars at our factory. We felt if we improved the skills of the dispensers, they would sell more product and would reward us with more of their business. At this time we had BTE’s, eyeglasses, and a few body aids. Some of these were products that came with the sophistication of two potentiometers – one to cut the lows and the other for MPO adjustment. It was a wonder that there were so many happy users of hearing aids at that time, but we all knew of their shortcomings.

It was a month or so, and I was sent on my first road trip with an old pro to learn the ropes of traveling. The majority of our travel at Qualitone was by car. The president, Dick Burger, was a hard task master, and I probably learned more from him than any other boss about the hearing aid business. For several years I traveled the USA, Canada, and a few forays into Mexico. I was pretty much on the road all the time seeing hearing aid dealers to get them to use our products, visiting audiologists to refer our products, and holding open houses for publicity. It was not unusual to be on the road for a couple of months without touching home base. It was a good thing I was a bachelor. This was not what I had really expected, but it was a great education of the industry.

I shouldered a lot of heat from the audiologic community “for giving away my knowledge” to dispensers. There were audiologists who threatened to turn me in to ASHA for the ethical violation of selling hearing aids. This was way before audiologists were “allowed” to dispense. I did resign from ASHA when I joined the industry because I would have been in violation of the code of ethics. How the world has changed.

I think I did the most good at the open houses since the majority of the people I would see were the dealers’ problems, and I could help solve them. I usually got a phone call during an open house (usually advertised in the local paper) from a local audiologist about how I was prostituting myself and sullying the name of audiology. They really had no idea of what I did as a member of the hearing aid industry. I enjoyed meeting with the clients and prospective clients and solving problems for them and the dispenser. We also sold a lot of hearing aids for the dealers, who were very happy, and sometimes rewarded me with dinner.

During this time I had accumulated a good deal of skill in retail sales of hearing aids and was often called upon by dispensers to help them solve problems. My favorite was a call from a dispenser who had recently opened a new office and was having problems getting people into his office. I went to his office, which I had trouble finding even though I could locate a hearing aid office by my personal radar, but I finally found the office and immediately knew how to solve his problem. Starting out with little capital, he sought the cheapest rent he could find. He located a nice office just perfect for his needs and opened for business. He advertised, sent out fliers, and told everyone he was open for business. No one came, and I was the only one to tell him that to have a hearing aid office in the back of an Adult Book store was not the kind of place my grandmother would like to be seen in even if she could hear perfectly, especially in a small town.

It was time to leave Qualitone – too much travel and not enough pay. I got an offer from Audivox in Boston, which interested me because I wanted to learn about the marketing aspect of the business to broaden my knowledge and value in the industry. When I left Qualitone Terry Griffing who left the Mayo Clinic to join Qualitone replaced me, and he became a member of our small and proud group that we called “SCAB.” It stood for the Society of Commercial Audiology Bastards.

A limited number of additional audiologists joined the ranks in industry during this time, and the ranks “swelled” to around 10, but not all stayed, such as Bob Rutledge. Still, there were now more audiologists looking to join the industry, especially at the manufacturing end.

Audivox

I was offered a position at Audivox as Director of Marketing, the area of expertise that I wanted to learn. I had thought that Audivox was more marketing driven; at least they had been in the past, and this is what I expected. I subsequently put together all sorts of different marketing campaigns to attract more dealers, but the president, Rolf Stutz, a very bright man, but one really content with the status quo, never supported these. What we called the “marketing effort” came at the end of the month when we got on the phone and tried to push more stock on the dealer’s shelf. This was not what I wanted to do, and thus Audivox was not the best fit for me. Two years later I found “The Job.”

Siemens

In 1972 I became the Division Manager for Siemens Hearing Instruments. I was the first Audiologist to lead a national hearing aid manufacturer. I was 32. Siemens was not well known in the USA, and it was a great opportunity to begin the growth of this company. They were selling less than 400 hearing aids a month, so some real effort was needed for growth. As I said, I wanted to reduce my traveling from the Qualitone days, but I had a real challenge. I was on the road for 252 days my first year. I hit every state and national meeting for dealers and audiologists. Plus, I had many trips to Germany to try and help my bosses understand that the hearing aid business was very different in the US from Europe, and Germany in particular. They were number one in Germany and most of Europe and could not understand that almost no one had any knowledge of what a gigantic company Siemens was in the US. The efforts paid off, and we were growing. I could hire regional sales people, and I was able to reduce my travel. By this time, being a commercial audiologist in hearing aid manufacturing had lost a little of its stigma, and more and more audiologists were applying for sales jobs.

After five years at Siemens I was ready to go back home to California and start my own business, Auditory Instrument Distributors. So I resigned from Siemens. I had an idea that I thought might have real merit. At Siemens, I spent about $50,000 a year on a sales person, total; salary, fringe benefits, and travel expenses. Hard to believe when today some field reps have a base salary of $100,000. At that time, if you could earn your age in salary, you were a big shot. At 50, people would be elated with an income of $50,000. My idea was to represent a few small manufacturers that had good niche products but could not afford to have a full time field rep. So I came up with the idea of representing 3 or 4 companies’ products on a straight commission basis. It worked out very well and an off-shoot of my company is still in the hearing aid “rep” business in the Western States.

The history I have been presenting still represented the early stages of the industry, and In-The-Ear (ITE) hearing aids were taking over the business (late 1970s). None of the manufacturers that we represented had a custom-molded product. I thought it was time to begin manufacturing custom products and so I began The ITE Company. Siemens purchased this a few years later. I remained with Siemens after the purchase for 12 more years when I retired in 2001.

 

About Wayne Staab

Dr. Wayne Staab is an internationally recognized authority on hearing aids. As President of Dr. Wayne J. Staab and Associates, he is engaged in consulting, research, development, manufacturing, education, and marketing projects related to hearing. Interests away from business include fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, golf, travel, tennis, softball, lecturing, sporting clays, 4-wheeling, archery, swimming, guitar, computers, and photography. Among other pursuits.

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