Mitchell Klein is learning the mandolin.
It’s what you’d expect from Mitch — even though he’s in the midst of a vacation when we sit down to talk, he’s always expanding the base of his knowledge, whether that’s in the realm of music or microchips. He’s been a custom integrator, an exec at URC, a CEDIA President – and a working musician. And the sum total of all those experiences and accomplishments has resulted in Klein being honored with the 2019 CEDIA Lifetime Achievement Award. From Hi-Fi to This Old House
Klein — who’s now director of the Z-Wave Alliance — got his start like a lot of other men and women in the CEDIA channel, in the realm of live sound. But Klein wasn’t mixing the music, he was playing in the band. Klein became a bass player as a teenager because there were too many guitar players in his high school jazz band. “I'm like, okay, I'll play bass,” Klein recalls. “I've always been that person to say, ‘Let's go explore, let's try something new.’”
Klein realized pretty quickly, however, that the vast majority of professional musicians aren’t making Beyonce money — in fact, most are barely surviving. But reproducing music accurately? That held Klein’s interest, and that interest became bankable when he was offered a managerial spot at a hi-fi store called Tweeter, Etc. From there, Klein eventually made the leap to custom integration, founding a firm called Media Systems.
“That firm saw a lot of firsts,” says Klein. The company was CE Pro’s first “Dealer of the Year,” for example. Klein installed one of the first Lutron RadioRA systems, too: “I actually tested it in my house. And we also had one of — if not the first — showrooms with its own dedicated theater. All of this was happening at Media Systems’ HQ in the Boston Design Center, which got the attention of a number of architects and interior designers — but not in a good way. “Back then, they wanted nothing to do with us,” notes Klein. “It’s so much different now.”
Public television, however, did want something to do with Media Systems, and gave Klein and company an on-camera gig as part of a renovation featured on the show “This Old House.” Klein’s ability to make an AV system unobtrusive was a fairly unique talent back in the mid-‘90s, and the taping was a hit. “We really kind of really hit it off,” says Klein, and the show gave his company national exposure on three more projects.
There was a downside, though — late-night calls to troubleshoot new tech, for example. But the toughest for Klein? Suffering through the economic slowdown that immediately followed 9/11. After experiencing the pain of shuttering a business, Klein went about taking URC from a “hand-held remote control company to a whole-house interface business,” and from there wound up in the Director position at Z-Wave.
Klein also became intimately involved with CEDIA — nearly at the outset. After turning down an initial request from the association shortly after it was formed, Klein wound up becoming treasurer, then president.
Klein realized that the association wasn’t functioning as best as it could: “We recognized that we were always so focused on the technology that we're ignoring a really key ingredient, which is the business. We weren't really paying attention to the business side of running our companies. And the other piece was, at the same time there was legislation in my home state of Massachusetts that essentially would have put all of us out of business. The bill would have required licensing for our people — it was geared towards electrical contractors.” That led Klein to form what would eventually become CEDIA’s Government affairs department, which tracks legislation all over North America with the help of a grassroots network of member volunteers.
From balancing the books to taking the notion of certification from pipedream to concrete reality, Klein’s tenure with CEDIA still resonates to this day. But that’s not why he volunteered: “What I love so much about CEDIA is working with the other volunteers and bringing people in and recognizing other people's passion, leveraging that passion and letting them run with it, let them go with it.” The Family
Klein’s career path, his tenure with CEDIA, and his seemingly boundless capacity for trying new things all added up to a packed schedule. But Klein has always had a critical support system — an emotional infrastructure, if you will: his family.
“I still do travel a lot. And when the basement floods and I’m away, my wife Dorothy and the kids get together and they take care of all these problems all on their own without complete panic. They encouraged the trips. They never gave me grief about it. A lot of it was volunteer stuff for CEDIA. I did not have to do this, but I would go overseas, I would go to headquarters at Indianapolis, and they would encourage it. And on the flip side, I made damn sure I coached little league. I coached the kids’ games. I was very, very involved in all the kids' lives, certainly from every aspect possible.
“Dorothy is just always encouraging and always nurturing and always trusting my view and my vision.” But if that vision isn’t always 20/20, Klein knows the family will advise — and occasionally dissent. “What she knows about me and what my kids know about me is when I become indecisive, when I can't make a decision, that's because I know that I shouldn't be making that decision. And they would come back and they would tell me, here's why you're not doing this. It's because you don't want to, because you don't believe in it, because you know it's the wrong thing to do.”
Klein pauses. “You know, they know more about me than I do.”