TEA Connect Blog

31 August 2017

TEA Member Spotlight – Larry Howard, Christie

The affable Larry Howard is the kind of person who “never knows a stranger.” If you’ve been to a Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) event in Orlando, you’ve probably had a friendly chat with Larry, who is currently serving his second term as a member of the TEA Eastern North America Division Board.

Larry is Regional Sales Manager for the Americas at Christie®, a market leader in digital projection. Asked to describe his role, Larry said, “I support our theme park clients and associated businesses, as well as the giant screen cinema market.” 

Photo at top: Larry Howard and his wife Theresa in formal wear for the Thea Awards.

Christie is a valued TEA Global Partner. Christie has an official status with Universal Studios as well: [Christie-Universal Partnership]. Christie’s many offerings will be featured at a TEA “Innovation in Technology” event on Sept 7, an event that Larry Howard has had a very active hand in organizing.

We asked Larry to tell us more about his career and love of the themed entertainment industry.

 

How did you get your start in the industry?

Larry Howard, plying his trade back in the days
before he joined the attractions industry.
"I can play an audio mixing console really well."

I moved to Orlando in 1984 and worked different types of jobs in audio and theater. On a whim, I took a day off and met up with my buddy John Meyer who, at the time, was working for Oceaneering on the Jaws attraction for Universal Studios Florida. I instantly fell in love with the use of technology on the project, and the thrill of building themed attractions. I resolved that I wasn’t leaving the property until I landed a job there.

In the course of visiting a few different venues and talking to people, I learned that creative executive Chip Largman was looking for some help on King Kong. I met with Chip and he hired me on the spot to do thousands of audio, video, and anamation terminations in the attraction. This led to quite a bit of crossover work into disciplines that were new and exciting for me.

I was so inspired and went all in! I committed to two full-time jobs, one with Muzak, a Comcast franchise sound company (which is ironic because Comcast now owns Universal), and the other working my new, full-time contract job at Universal. The workload at King Kong continued to grow and I dedicated myself 100% to the project.  I have never looked back!

 

How did your background set you up to jump into the job at Universal?

Although I hadn’t previously been part of the theme park industry, I was able to jump in because of my technical background. My prior experience included working with companies involved in a variety of things including studio design and installations, high-level security systems, and large scale audio systems. 

Being from a musical family also helped. I don’t play any instruments but I am an avid fan of all genres of music. Given my love of music and electronics, I studied and went to school to be a studio engineer as well as a maintenance engineer. So, although I can’t play an instrument, I can play an audio mixing console really well! That gave me some of the skills I later used to be successful in my theme park roles. My experience also included live mixing and DJ-ing and other audio-related jobs, including a stint working for a hearing aid manufacturer. I like to say that in that job, I went from damaging people’s ears at live music venues, to helping them with hearing protection and hearing aids.

"I like racing"

My roots are in Hopedale, Ohio, which is Clark Gable’s hometown. Over the course of my career, my work has taken me as far north as Canada in 1999; and after some stops in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Lititz, PA, I landed back in Orlando in 2010 - the theme park industry mecca – and feel at home here. I recharge at New Smyrna Beach, and indulge in my enthusiasm for the Daytona 500, which I have attended 31 times since 1985. I like racing and enjoy watching any sport where the contestants are going fast and the tracks are challenging such as Indy, Formula 1 and Dakar – and like to keep at least one fast car in my garage, another sign of my love of technology.

 

Do you have a favorite slogan or saying that you use?

HOWYOUDOIN? Larry Howard (right)
at Bristol Motor Speedway with 
Kevin Romano, Executive VP, Global Media, Christie

HOWYOUDOIN? While living in the Philadelphia area I picked that up from the South Phila slang, and it has stuck with me. I have a genuine interest in how and what people are doing. HOWYOUDOIN?

 

Share a favorite industry “war story” with us.

Opening Day of Universal Studios Florida. If you were there, nothing else needs to be said. If you weren’t, I’d encourage you to read the stories and talk with the amazing groups of dedicated folks who pulled it off. It certainly was not the easiest day of our careers, but we made it happen - and now look at what it has become! The growth, innovation and success of the park are truly remarkable.

 

What have been the biggest challenges or biggest changes you have seen in the course of your career?

Rocking a tux
at the Thea Awards
Chilling at 
New Smyrna Beach

To me they are very much one in the same: the technology. Technology has changed greatly over the years and the biggest challenge is learning, adapting and keeping up with the those changes. I started my career as a audio expert and now my focus has changed to video. They are very different animals. Throughout my career, I have also learned about lighting, lasers and film and all have had a very positive impact on my understanding and appreciation of various technologies.

At Christie, our current special product is RGB Laser projection. It recreates the most amazing colors, requires no lamp changes and will operate for years with very little maintenance. These RGB Laser systems have all the latest technology and will take us many years into the future with dynamic picture quality.

Talk about change! We now have the ability to paint any surface with video projection. We say, “pixels anywhere.” Where lighting instruments were once used to create the mood with different colors and intensity, we are now doing it with video projection. Projects from the Empire State building in NYC, to the Marine Museum theater in Quantico, to many theme park attractions with very large blended video screens all use these blended projection systems. So buckle in and be prepared for some amazing new projects to come.

 

For you, what’s special about themed entertainment and TEA? What would you tell someone entering the industry today?

With Loren Barrows (Alcorn McBride) at
the 2016 TEA Ugly Sweater Party in Orlando -
"That suit was one and done, but the relationships
you build will last your entire career."

Our industry is a very specialized niche and a great many people stay in it for many years. I find it much like being from a small town in Ohio - you know everybody’s business and they know yours - for the most part. Integrity is everything - the relationships you build will last your entire career, so it’s important to make decisions based on that fact. 

If I were giving advice to someone entering this industry, first I’d tell them to join TEA – of course! Then, I’d tell them to never say ‘no’ to an opportunity without first pondering it carefully. Strive to be the ‘doer’ - not afraid to pick up a broom and sweep up, or do whatever else is needed. Be the first one in and the last to leave. Work hard. You will be surprised at the number of opportunities that will arise from those simple principles. Being a leader doesn’t always mean being ‘in charge’ – but by continually listening, learning and applying knowledge, anyone can be a leader in their role.

I have always tried to be that person who goes the extra mile, and this industry is very open to that. In my opinion, the real key to success is relationships. I have had great opportunities passed along to me because of the relationships built in the course of 25 years in the industry. I feel very fortunate.

"The challenge of finding 'what’s next'
keeps you interested, and keeps you in play."

I’m a champion of staying on top of ‘what’s the next best technology/product coming along’, and ‘what’s the next best avenue for our business?’ A lot of that understanding comes from my relationships. The challenge of finding what’s next keeps you interested, and keeps you in play. The exciting part is 'what’s next' and in the theme park world, “what’s next” is incredibly critical. Having a good perspective on those answers comes down to relationships. From a general sales perspective, though, the ‘state-of-the-art ‘is what’s in stock and what needs to be sold daily. That’s what keeps the lights on in the office and we can’t forget that!

My involvement in TEA helps me do all those things.

Posted by Judy Rubin

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