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Learning from Leaders

A Sound Investment

Rick Kojan’s threedecades-strong Sony career began with an act of kindness and a show of faith—and he hasn’t forgotten that.


From the very beginning, Rick Kojan set goals and went after them. A number of early positions included a newspaper route and a grocery store job that helped make one his first major achievements possible: buying a car.

“I coveted a black and gold Trans Am from the 1977 movie ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’” he said, adding that he saw it when he was 10 years old. “I bought my Trans Am as a senior in high school. Unlike a lot of other people my age, who wish they would’ve kept this or wish they’d bought that, I still have this car.”

Kojan was into cars, but also car stereo and home hi-fi equipment. The stepping stone into 12-volt came with a job at a traditional retailer, what’s known today as a specialty independent retailer. “They had four stores in Northeast Ohio which is where I lived up in Cleveland. It was called Ohio Sound Stereo.” He took the job as he was heading to college at Kent State.

“I had some aspirations of playing college football and soon found out I wasn’t good enough,” he added. “I chose Kent—some folks called it a suitcase college—because it facilitated the balance between being able to go to college and being able to support full-time work hours at Ohio Sound Stereo.”

Recalling An Act of Kindness

With a tenure of 32 years and counting at Sony, Kojan, who now serves as head of sales—North America Mobile Electronics—has enjoyed the kind of career that dates back to another generation. “My dad was a long-time Fisher Body worker, so I associate this kind of career with my parents’ era. But for me, it didn’t start out that way.”

He added that he was “super enthusiastic” about the consumer electronics business, and his job at Ohio Sound Stereo. He ingratiated himself with every factory rep and manufacturer’s rep who came into the Cleveland store to do demonstrations or trainings.

“I told them that when I graduated from Kent, I was going to work in the industry just like them, and could I please get their business card,” he said. “Well, time passed and I graduated, but then I got slapped in the face with reality.”

Kojan was crushed after rejections from both Pioneer Home Audio and JVC Home Audio. “I had this four-year degree and no outside sales experience,” he said. “It’s the chicken and the egg. How can I get any outside sales experience if I can’t get a chance? I swallowed my pride, left Ohio Sound Stereo, and took this absolutely miserable outside sales job where I was selling industrial gauges and valves to factories and machine shops.”

One day, he said, he got a phone call from one of the reps who’d given him his business card. It was a Sony guy named Zack Blocker.

“I stay in touch with him today, and because of this interview for Mobile Electronics magazine, I purposely reached out to him on LinkedIn to just say, ‘Thank you.’ Zack Blocker told me what to say, what color suit to wear and what color tie to put on. He scripted the interview for me.”

Because of that kindness, Kojan said he aced his interview with Sony and that’s how it all began. “I will never forget him for that. The quick lesson here is always stay connected and always say thanks to those who guide or help you along the way. Sony happening had nothing to do with me or my degree. It was all because someone was kind enough to reach out to me.”

Master Something, Then Move Up

Once at Sony, Kojan became a regional sales assistant. “I didn’t have a quota,” he said.

“I wasn’t selling. I was a glorified store detailer and trainer for the larger regional accounts back then which have long since been put out of business by Best Buy and Circuit City. But I loved it. I loved being on the road. Loved doing my call reports.”

The company culture at Sony, according to Kojan, was super corporate. The dress code was suit and tie. “You weren’t going into accounts wearing shorts,

Dockers or polo shirts,” he said. “You were dressed to make your sales calls, especially when you went to the Sony office. For me, though, it was Sony, and I was going to do everything and anything to work my way out of being a regional sales assistant and do everything asked of me so I could get my own sales territory.”

This happened, he said, about eight months after he joined. Kojan was assigned to northeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania and upstate New York. That territory position lasted about a decade for him. “Sales has always been my thing, so I enjoyed it,” he said. What he learned about the company, though, was that a person could either keep doing the same thing and stay in the same position, or they could show a willingness to go outside their comfort zone—something which led to promotion.

“My last year, I was inducted into our very prestigious Samurai Sales Society—a huge goal and huge honor. But at that point in Sony Land, it’s kind of like, we’ve given you this, we’ve recognized you, so what else have you got for us?”

In 2002, Kojan was promoted to the car audio headquarters team in Park Ridge, N.J. He said it was the first time he’d been away from his home base of northeast Ohio. “It was tough. We made some trips to Japan and there were long, long hours at headquarters,” he said. “Those three years were quite a learning experience. I was now on the other side of what we call church and state—in marketing. I learned a ton from my boss, Bill Lee, and the other marketing guys. It was a departure from sales, so there were some hard lessons learned.”

A key lesson, according to Kojan, is applicable to anyone trying to make sure they’re moving their career forward. “You cannot be a one-trick pony,” he said. “Everything I had worked for, with the culmination of being a Sony Samurai Sales Award winner, can pigeon-hole you.” He admitted he wasn’t strong with some skills on the other side of the business. “In marketing, I learned the importance of the P&L sheet, marginal profit and consolidated profit. Those things didn’t mean much to me while I was on the sales side.

At KnowledgeFest Orlando, Sony hosted a lunch eventto announce the growing line of Mobile ES products.

At KnowledgeFest Orlando, Sony hosted a lunch eventto announce the growing line of Mobile ES products.

It was just sales, sales, sales—gung ho and make your quota.”

To anyone coming up within a company, Kojan said it’s best to be wellrounded and try to figure out the other side of things, too. For example, he added, “If you’re visiting car stereo accounts, you need to get into the owner’s head— because whether he’s buying more Sony or Pioneer or Alpine, that isn’t the end of it. You need to know his side of the business.”

In other words, how much money is the business making? What lines are most profitable? Which lines are easier to get along with, so it makes the person’s life as a business owner’s a bit better? “I didn’t have any of that knowledge until I worked at headquarters,” he said.

It’s Never Too Late For A Comeback

Kojan is working on a huge project with his sales team: the relaunch of the Mobile ES brand. ES stands for Elevated Standard. According to Kojan, it was a part of Sony when he first started with the company, on both the home audio and the car audio sides.

“It’s a well-known and highly respected brand of upper-echelon products,” he said. Back in May, Sony made the announcement that the products would be returning to the market. “We are back to the roots of what Mobile ES meant to

all these specialty independent retailers, and that’s a true elevated standard and true sound quality and performance.”

The line will round out with more products in the coming year and in the year after that. Kojan credits his team of seven people who are ensuring all goes as planned. “They’re the ones on the front line doing the dealer calls, the training and the social media. Without them and their efforts, it wouldn’t be possible,” he said.

In addition to the brand relaunch, Kojan is also looking forward to more upcoming in-person events. To start, Sony attended the debut KnowledgeFest Orlando, which got everyone back together again. “That’s what I love about my role as head of sales, working at shows like SEMA—we’ll be there—CES— we’ll be there—and distributor and dealer events—yes, and yes,” he said.

“No Matter What You’re Selling, It’s All About People”

When he’s not at work, Kojan enjoys taking to the open road in his other “daily fun drivers,” a Cadillac CTS-V Series and a Corvette Z06. There’s also a Sony company car which serves as a demo vehicle.

And then there’s the NASCAR thing. It’s one of Kojan’s hobbies. “Kris Bulla is our national trainer, and he lives in

Nashville,” he said. [Editor’s Note: Read July’s Learning From Leaders profile on Kris Bulla in Mobile Electronics magazine.] “NASCAR returned to Nashville for the first time in a long time, and Kris hooked us up with some tickets.”

Kojan loves following the sport and attending races. Beyond that, he enjoys hot rods, car shows and car collecting.

Finally, Kojan doesn’t believe in hesitation. At the end of the day, “No matter what you’re selling, it’s all about the people.” He’s been in his current position for about a decade now, and Sony was a much different brand in 2011 relative to car stereo, he said. “We kind of lost our way,” he admitted, adding that the company’s rebirth and refreshed focus is all people of the people involved.

“It’s my tech team headed up by Anthony Tozzi, and my national account manager, Andrew Wright, and our commitment to these dealers who have brought Sony back to the forefront on the specialty independent side.”

Kojan sees the brand relaunch as a “love letter” to all the dealers who’ve stuck with Sony, and “watched us prove our worth as we have made our comeback as a solid Tier 1 brand,” he said, noting, “For me, it’s about the people— and that’s what makes it so enjoyable to still be in this business.”