Happy Newlyweds: Why Harman’s Acquisition of AMX Makes Sense

Harman’s focus on audio in the commercial market is the perfect complement to AMX’s video and automation systems.

Julie Jacobson

The Duchossois Group, Inc., last week said it would divest AMX, the commercial and home automation company, selling it to Harman International Industries, a commercial and consumer audio company, for $365 million.

Duchossois acquired AMX, formerly a publicly held company, in 2005 for $315 million.

It was an odd fit for Duchossois, best known for its leading Chamberlain brand of garage door openers, and its significant investment in horse-racing giant Churchill Downs. Duchossois also owns Brivo, a company that initially focused on unattended access (say, for deliveries when a homeowner was away) but now is moving into more traditional access controls.

When interviewed about that acquisition in 2008, Duchossois president and CEO Robert Fealy said Duchossois looks for companies that are profitable, serve categories that are in early stages of growth, and that “we don’t have to babysit.”

Other than that, there were indeed some synergies between AMX and Duchossois’s Brivo and Chamberlain businesses. Fealy told CI’s sister publication CE Pro that Chamberlain’s focus on perimeter access control got Duchossois thinking, “How do you manage from inside the fence?”

In addition, Fealy said that Duchossois had a “human factors group thinking about human behaviors,” asking questions like: “How are people’s habits changing?”

Growing the Custom Portfolio with Milestone

Duchossois was pretty much hands-off, letting AMX do its thing all by its lonesome. Then Duchossois acquired Milestone AV Technologies, the parent company of Chief and Sanus, makers of TV mounts and A/V furniture in 2008, and Fealy saw some real synergies there.

For example, he said he imagined banks of TVs in an operating room, requiring mounts and controls – a perfect fit for Milestone and AMX: “I think because of all the vertical applications on the commercial side, you can start to look at that and ask, ‘What are vertical markets where you see these things showing up?'”

In fact, it was the synergistic portfolio that led Duchossois to finally break its famous silence by creating a website and promoting its brands in 2008.

“I think we have enough critical mass in our businesses now,” he said. “It’s time to let people know we are out there, let people know we are interested in building businesses.”At the same time, Fealy noted, “We don’t want to sound like there’s some gigantic plan” to foster integration across brands.

In 2011, Milestone merged with Da-Lite, a leader in motorized video projection screens, adding yet another synergistic custom-oriented brand to the family.

By 2014, Duchossois was ready to exit the business and the channels and categories served by Milestone and AMX. The company sold Milestone to the investment firm Pritzker Group Private Capital in December 2013. And the deal with AMX is expected to close in a month, subject to government approvals.

Harman and AMX: ‘A Perfect Marriage’

Interviewed again by CI’s sister publication CE Pro last week, AMX CEO Rashid Skaf says (not surprisingly) that AMX has been approached over the years by many companies looking to acquire it. And every year the Duchossois family “looked around” but declined to sell… until now.