At the epicenter--at Roscoe and Balboa boulevards--the morning shift had been at work for half an hour when the Jan. 17 quake mercilessly shook the Northridge plant where Harman International Industries makes electronic components for premium car audio systems. You know the names: JBL, Infinity, Harman Kardon.
"On the line, it was like somebody just hit the whole machine forward," one worker recounted later in the company newspaper. "The ladies yelled and they all ran toward me. . . . The lights went off, and the sprinklers came on." One supervisor was sure the plant, with 1,400 workers, was a total loss.
But Harman is not a typical company.
Chairman and CEO Sidney Harman says he hires "poets" as his top executives. The work force is organized into teams. Job security is assured: When falling orders from Ford and Chrysler slow the assembly line, workers can take jobs in security or landscaping without a pay cut or loss of benefits. Harman set up a line assembling clocks--made from the wooden plugs knocked out in mounting car speakers--to keep surplus workers occupied. Some will be trained as sales people to staff the company's first outlet store, scheduled to open April 1.
An MBA could slash costs at Harman International. But Harman believes that people who are secure in their jobs will "deliver a level of productivity beyond our wildest imagination." The marketplace endorses his assumption: The stock price has almost doubled in the last year; profits tripled from 1992 to 1993.
And the production line in Northridge was up and running one week after the quake--every worker wore a hard hat but was at his or her place.
In terms of teamwork, Harman says, "nothing I've ever seen came close to what this awful disaster produced."