Audiologists in Industry – Wayne Staab Part 3

From the Academic to the Independent Entrepreneurial World

In 1972 I was teaching at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire.  This was part of my plan to move further west.  (Well, Eau Claire was further west than East Lansing, Michigan).  Being in charge also of the hearing clinic, I was at times contacted by local hearing aid dealers or hearing aid industry representatives to use their hearing aids in the clinic’s hearing aid evaluations, a practice described in last week’s blog.

One day, Ed O’Gara, a Telex hearing aid representative, visited and we had a long conversation about the direction of the hearing aid industry and audiology.  I expressed my long-developed ideas about the need for audiologists to become involved directly in hearing aid sales, and that both the industry and audiological communities could benefit from such interaction – that I thought ASHA’s policy related to audiologists not selling hearing aids was archaic and needed to be changed.  Following my tirade, he said that he didn’t think that I should be in the academic community.  I was somewhat put off because I had been in the top 5% of the teaching faculty at each of the three universities where I had taught.  He then followed up with the statement that he thought that with my thoughts and ideas, I should be in the hearing aid industry where I could actually help to make change rather than just talk about it.  He mentioned that if I was ever in the Twin Cities I should stop in and continue this discussion with the personnel at Telex.

As fate would have it, about a month or so after Ed’s visit, I interviewed for an audiology position at the University of Minnesota Medical School.  It turned out to be nothing that I was interested in, but since I was in the Twin Cities, I decided to drop in and talk with the people at Telex.

 

The Pendulum Swings

Telex Communications was a division of Telex Corp. of Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The Communications Division, located in southern Minnesota, was a diversified manufacturer providing a general category of products that were adapted and marketed in seven areas: Aircraft, Broadcast/Industrial, Consumer, Data Communications, Education, Hearing Aids, and Home Entertainment.  Telex was one of the original hearing aid companies, founded in 1936.

My conversations at Telex were with Bob Alexander (head of the Hearing Aid Division), Ed O’Gara (Hearing Aid Division Sales Manager), and Ansel Kleiman (President of Telex communications and Telex Corp. Board Member).  Our conversations focused on the future of the hearing aid industry and of audiology.  These conversations occurred over three different occasions, and on a fourth, they offered me a position with them in the Hearing Aid Division.

I was intrigued and interested, but was concerned about moving from employment in the University structure where I was essentially guaranteed a long and comfortable life, to an unknown, with no guarantees.  And, contrary to what most assumed, the dollars were the same, except that the job did not afford me the flexibility of work hours and vacation (off-time) that I was used to.  As a result, decision-making was like a pendulum – “yes” one day, “no” the next.  Initially, the pendulum swung rapidly between “yes” and “no,” but then started to slow down between the decisions to make.  Then, one day, the pendulum lingered on “yes,” and I decided to take the plunge.  If nothing more, I could consider it a year of post-doctoral experience.  And, it got me a little farther west – even if by only 90 miles or so – but, it was farther west.

During this decision-making time, I contacted my old office mate, Jim Curran, who was then working with Dahlberg, another hearing aid company, to offer guidance.  To be honest, I can’t remember all of how Jim counseled me, except that in taking such a position I could expect no safety nets – it would be a gamble – unlike what I had been experiencing in the academic community.

 

Job Title – A Decision to be Made

My job description was determined by Ansel Kleiman, who told me to “do what you think needs to be done.”  I don’t think that anyone could have had a more generous position directive.  Still, we needed to provide some kind of description because a job title on my business card of “I do what needs to be done” just didn’t seem to convey any significant expertise or activity.  We decided on “Director of Education.”  This title was selected mostly based on the ASHA Code of Ethics, which stated that an audiologist “…may be employed by a manufacturer or publisher, provided that his duties are consultative, scientific, or educational in nature”  {{1}}[[1]] Code of ethics of the American Speech and Hearing Association, January 1, 1971[[1]].  To be honest, we really did not know what I would be doing, but I can state that it did not take long to determine the kinds of activities that would be best to focus on.

 

A Year of Post-Doctoral Work and Learning

I learned more about hearing aids and their use in my first year working in the hearing aid industry than I had learned in my previous eight years in the academic community.  In this “real world” environment there were significant implications to the actions and decisions made.

My work and experiences were exciting!  After the first year I forgot about considering this job as a “post doctoral” and found that, as opposed to my academic activities, I could now actually assist in making changes and not just talk about doing such.  Of course, I was fortunate to have great mentors in Ansel Kleiman, Ed O’Gara, Harry Teder, and the entire case of manufacturing and related Telex disciplines.

Ansel Kleiman became my business mentor.  His office was across from mine and after regular hours, he and I would sit and talk long after other employees had left.  This did not sit well with my wife who was waiting for me with dinner, but Ansel was one of the most fascinating and intelligent business person I ever came into contact with.  I learned much from him and he seemed to be preparing me for much more.  He and a Telex Corporation Board Member on the Business College at Stanford University put me into a business program for smaller corporations on the Stanford University campus, where I was heavily schooled.  Additionally, I was invited to the Telex Corporation Executive Board social functions where I could interact with the Board members, along with only a few other select individuals from Telex Communications.

 

Disliked by Both the Audiological and Hearing Aid Communities

Upon learning that I had taken a position in the hearing aid industry, I soon found out who my real friends were.  Some colleagues, including many who had been my classmates, openly called me a “traitor” and other derogatory names, and disassociated themselves from me, some never speaking to me again.  Of course, this hurt.  After all, I was still the same person I had been the day before, with the same ideals, beliefs, and ethics.  I guess that I didn’t realize that some kind of transformation had occurred and changed me overnight.  Academicians found it difficult to believe that someone with a Ph.D. would stoop so low as to work in the private sector, especially for a hearing aid company!  How could one “waste” this kind of education?  After all, only one other Ph.D. in audiology had ever worked for a hearing aid manufacturer, and not for long.  Some comfort came from my audiology mentor, Dr. Bill Rintelmann, who supported my decision and encouraged me to ignore the hate speech and encouraged me to show how I could help affect change in the hearing aid industry, and perhaps even in audiology.

What was just as disconcerting was that not only did audiologists detest what I had done, but many in the hearing aid community were just as distressed to have me on their side of the fence.  After all, they were as distrustful of the audiological community as the audiological community was of them.  At the first NHAS (National Hearing Aid Society) meeting I attended in Chicago about a month after I was hired, I recall a dealer saying to me, “I know who you are, and I can tell you right now that I don’t like you.”  This was my welcome to the real world!  The transition to acceptance took about two years.  However, by this time, there was help in making the transition.  The industry now had Jim Curran, Bob Briskey, Jim Delk, Dick Scott, and Terry Griffing – all with audiology training, but not allowed to be identified as audiologists because ASHA had forced all but Bob Briskey from their membership.

(Next blog as a continuation:   Harassment With the Intent to Discredit)

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.

2 Comments

  1. This definitely recalls many of our early conversations about audiologists becoming involved in selling hearing aids, doesn’t it. I remember some of them very well.

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