Howard Singer Ph.D. '79 is a Pioneer in the Music Business
Howard (Howie) Singer Ph.D. '79 wrote his doctoral thesis on a production inventory system with one warehouse and "N" retailers, where external demands are to be met while minimizing inventory costs. Now, as Chief Technology Officer for Warner Music, Singer works in an industry with infinite inventory and N online retailers. He described the evolution of that industry and his career at a recent session of the Enterprise Engineering Colloquium.
OR at Bell Labs
After receiving his degree Singer joined AT&T Bell Laboratories, where, as he pointed out, "no one was called 'Doctor' since there were so many of them." He currently holds 20 patents.
Singer's first project at Bell Labs was to design inventory control and cash register systems for AT&T's then-new phone center stores. (Previously the inventory control systems were designed for a factory setting.) He moved through a series of assignments involving simulation, queuing theory, cost optimization, factory automation, employee scheduling, systems engineering, statistical quality control and project management.
Throughout his talk, Singer described a series of his best and worst moves. For example, he said his best move at AT&T was "getting buy-in vs. proving others wrong," while his worst move was "not handling [the] shift from peer to boss smoothly." Although he was cofounder of a pioneering music unit called A2B at AT&T, he saw that success for such products lay elsewhere and left in 1999 to move directly into the music business.
The Music Business
In so doing, Singer became involved in a variety of new concerns, from audio compression and internet security to E-commerce and digital rights management, "and every other function needed by a company," he said. "I should have minored in law," he said, noting as well that "music is a relationship business." At Warner, he joked, he is one of three people called "Doctor", the others being Dr. Dre and Dr. John. Unlike the others, performers, Dr. Singer has been a pioneer in the shift of the music industry to a digital platform.
Singer illustrated the dramatic evolution of the music industry over the past 30 years with a chart showing changing composition of industry revenue, from vinyl and cassettes to downloads and performance experiences. For example, vinyl LPs went from a majority of revenue to 1% between 1980 an 1990, and the biggest music product in one country (Malaysia) is now ring back tones.
The Role of OR
Singer said that he came to ORIE with a question: "What the hell is OR.... and how can I get a job doing it." Now he sees that decision making in business is becoming a lot more data driven, with areas such as revenue management assuming increasing importance. "You need to become a guru in handling data," he advised the students.