When I founded a consumer technology PR agency, I knew I would be making annual trips to Las Vegas for the massive CES trade show. Since my first CES in 2003, the Max Borges Agency has helped more than 1,000 CE companies launch new products, and even themselves.


But even I must bend the knee to my guest on this week’s edition of the Unconventional Genius podcast: Jim Sanduski, President, Sharp Home Electronics Company of America.


Jim has been working in the CE industry for more than 25 years. Before taking on his current role, he was an executive with some companies you may have heard of: Sony, Samsung, HP and Panasonic.


He’s experienced some of the industry’s most transformative developments, such as the evolution of television from watching analog signals on heavy CRT screens, to HDTV, to marveling at today’s 4K (and soon, 8K!) displays. He’s seen the transition from VHS to DVD to BluRay, and from renting videos in stores, to downloading then streaming them on devices of all sizes.


“There’s nothing more constant than change in the CE industry, and I’m really proud to have played a part in some of the major advancements in our industry,” he adds.


Today, Jim is focused on one of the industry’s newest advancements, but it’s not happening in the living room. The kitchen is evolving from a collection of stand-alone appliances to a connected experience where those appliances “talk” to one another and to apps that will do everything from filling out your grocery list to starting dinner while you’re on your way home.


“That type of functionality is still in the early stages, but it’s definitely the future and is quickly evolving,” he says. “Today we take the connected TV for granted, and one day we will think the same way about our connected kitchens.”


Jim says the tech startup community will play a key role in Sharp’s ability to stay in front of the race to build the connected kitchen. He reminded me of my recent conversation with another Jim – Jim Stengel, author of the excellent new business book “Unleashing the Innovators: How Mature Companies Find New Life with Startups.” Stengel called it a playbook for established enterprises on how to use startups to change their cultures for the positive and avoid what he calls the “Innovator’s Dilemma.”


That’s exactly what Sharp is doing under Sanduski’s leadership. For example, Sharp recently announced it is working with SideChef, a developer of an award-winning cooking app, to create the mobile application and custom recipe content for all of Sharp’s future internet-enabled cooking appliances. The first product will be a connected version of Sharp’s SuperSteam+™ Convection Oven, scheduled for release in Fall 2018.


“We have partnered with SideChef to bridge the last three feet in the kitchen,” he says. “The consumer will only have to select a recipe and gather the ingredients together. The app will send the cooking algorithm to a Sharp product, which will automatically take care of the cooking for you. It will be a fail-safe way to create the perfect dish.”


Sanduksi calls this marriage of hardware and software critical not only to Sharp’s future growth and success, but to that of any CE hardware manufacturer.


“The days of selling standalone products is clearly in decline,” he adds. “Today is all about what I call ‘solution selling.’ If you’re an entrepreneur developing hardware, you must figure out how to merge your product with software to create a compelling consumer experience. In fact, try to take that a step further by creating a recurring revenue stream so you’re not solely dependent on selling new hardware, but you in effect create a services business.”


He also advises entrepreneurs to work with industry standards, instead of trying to create their own. He holds up Amazon and its decision to offer an SDK for any developer who wants to create a skill for the Alexa virtual assistant, as a model to follow.


“Jeff Bezos famously said, ‘start with the customer and work backwards.’ Adopting industry standards makes it more convenient and compelling for your customer to use your product.”


Beyond the technical how-to, Jim has excellent advice for anyone building a career in consumer technology, whether at a startup or an industry heavyweight like Sharp.


“Be humble, be kind, even when you reach the higher levels of the org chart,” he says. “Always consider that business success is about ‘we’, not ‘I.’ Your colleagues and team members will make you look good. Don’t be a complainer, if you’re not happy about something, be part of the solution. Manage expectations by under promising and over delivering. That’s how you will build your reputation throughout the company and the industry.”


He also recommends that you become comfortable with presenting in front of people, whether to your team in a conference room, or delivering a CES keynote address.


“In business you’re always selling, and when you present, you’re selling yourself,” says Jim. “You always want to be articulate, and think quickly on your feet in case you have to respond to unexpected questions.”


Jim knows of what he speaks (pun intended). While a senior in high school in Omaha, Neb., he joined Junior Achievement, which had an affiliation with a local chapter of Toastmasters, the international organization dedicated to helping people learn how to effectively communicate.


He placed second in a Toastmasters competition, which earned him a three-week all expenses paid trip throughout Japan. It was his first time traveling outside the U.S., and he decided to return to Japan on an exchange program while in college.


He didn’t realize it at the time, but that high school trip would be the first step towards an amazing career.


“After graduating from the University of Nebraska, I turned my interests in electronics and international relations into a career,” he says. “I started with GE in New York City, then went to Harvard Business School for my MBA, and I know my experience living and studying in Japan helped my candidacy.”


“I went to work for Sony, Samsung, HP, Panasonic, and now Sharp. That experience with Toastmasters set the trajectory of my life.”


If you are with a consumer technology company planning to launch a new product at CES, or are even looking ahead to CES 2019, the Max Borges Agency can help you succeed. To learn more, check out: www.maxborgesagency.com.