Electro Acoustics: A lesson learned leads to a legacy of excellence

Electro Acoustics founder Chris Jordan (left) with sons Sam (center) and Luke at TCU’s Schollmaier Arena. (Photo courtesy Electro Acoustics)

As an 18-year-old working for his father’s sound installation service, Henry Jordan Sound, Chris Jordan learned a lesson he will never forget about taking ownership of every job he worked on.

While installing an intercom system at a customer’s office, Jordan miscalculated the location of the support stud and cut a hole that left the support exposed. The customer said he (the customer) would cover the hole with sheet rock under one stipulation: Chris Jordan must sign his name into the exposed wall.

In the words of the customer, “You need to own every piece of work that you do, and that includes your mistakes. Let this become a lesson for you.”

That humbling moment presented Jordan with a graduate degree in professionalism and commitment: Taking ownership of every job.

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That “graduate degree” would become quite significant in his quest for excellence.

As a senior at Castleberry High School, Jordan’s English teacher shared a challenge: If you don’t pass this course, you won’t graduate.

Inspired by the challenge, the young student buckled down and graduated fourth in his class – fourth from the bottom. Still, he graduated.

He noticed the joy that his brother, Gary, experienced in skydiving, so Jordan took up the sport. The two brothers performed skydiving demonstrations at everything from barbecue cookoffs to county fairs. He had completed a milestone of 250 jumps when something went wrong.

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“I was on a routine jump, and everything was going fine. Then, at 400 feet above the ground, my chute suddenly collapsed. I rolled up in a ball to prepare for what was likely my last impact.”

Inexplicably, the parachute suddenly re-opened a second before impact. He experienced a hard landing, but he walked away without a scratch.

“That’s when I felt the presence of God. I knew it wasn’t luck. It was a gift, and I was being given an opportunity to make a difference.”

At age 20, he started attending church, where he gained a mentor in David Bertch, who took him under his wing and fed him books. Jordan became a voracious reader about electronics and sound. He taught himself advanced concepts that also benefited his skills working for his father’s sound company.

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Chris Jordan recognized that churches in the 1980s lacked quality sound, so he began calling on architects whenever he saw a church under construction. He learned that sound quality was not at that time a priority, so architects worked with the general contractor and the church’s management selected the audio contractor.

Jordan’s first project was at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth. “I thought that this $10,000 budget was all the money in the world!” In time, he would learn to magnify the scope of his definition of “large.”

He and his wife Sue sold their Pontiac Grand Prix and bought tools and a used white panel van. Electro Acoustics was in business. The first year’s volume was $143,000 in 1984.

At that time the farthest thing from Jordan’s mind was that almost 40 years later, Systems Contractors News – the prestigious publication of the audio/visual industry – would induct him into its SCN Hall of Fame.

Jordan’s reputation for outstanding work grew his business from its humble beginning to grander projects, first with more churches and then with offices and schools.

In the company’s second year of business, Electro Acoustics’ largest project had a price tag of $25,000. Then, in biblical terms, Jonah swallowed the whale as Jordan submitted the winning bid for the Performing Arts Center at Groesbeck High School. At $250,000, the project was 10 times larger than his largest previous project.

“To meet bonding requirements, we put up our house and cars as collateral,” says Jordan. “We were all in.”

Eight years later, the new Texas Rangers venue, The Ballpark in Arlington, offered another 10-fold-larger milestone: $2,500,000. Electro Acoustics partnered with two other local companies to earn the job over national companies.

Working from dusk into dawn, the Electro Acoustics team completed not only its responsibilities of engineering and rack installations but also the design, fabrication, and installation of the large speaker horns when one of the other two partners failed to deliver.

“We created our own two internal teams and raced to see which could install more speakers by the end of each day,” says Jordan. “At closing time, the losing team bought the beer for the winning team.

“That project provided at the time the world’s largest control system – a revolutionary design that changed large-format venues.”

The Ballpark in Arlington opened doors at TCU, where Chris and his team have designed and installed systems at Amon G. Carter Stadium throughout its multiple upgrades, at Schollmaier Arena, and at the Van Cliburn Performance Hall, among many others.

The Van Cliburn project almost didn’t happen. A Houston company won the initial bid and failed to deliver on its promises, so Chris received the call from TCU asking him to replace that company and save the project.

“These things happen from time to time,” says Jordan. “A client receives a quote on a project that is just too attractive to pass up. It usually ends up that the other company is not bidding to the specs, so they can’t fulfill the contract. Because TCU trusted us, we earned their even deeper trust by rescuing the project and delivering ahead of schedule.”

What would Jordan consider Electro Acoustics’ defining project?

“While we’ve been honored to elevate the audience experience through our design and installations at such prominent venues as Bass Hall, the Kimbell Piano Pavilion, Christ Chapel Church, and the Levitt Pavilion in Arlington, our crowning achievement is Dickies Arena,” Jordan says. “I love how legendary rodeo announcer Bob Tallman calls Dickies Arena ‘Bass Hall with dirt in it.’ I’d really prefer that he call Bass Hall ‘Dickies Arena without dirt.’”

Dickies Arena presented the ultimate challenge, Jordan says, because large venues tend to focus on what he calls “paging-quality” sound that is good enough for watching a football or basketball game, or enjoying a rodeo, but the sound quality would never deliver an edifying, enjoyable experience for a concert, where the quality of the instrumentation and the clarity of the vocals are essential.

“We recommended a change to the initial sound system design at Dickies Arena because the concert experience would have been pretty good, but not exceptional,” Jordan recalls. “With the changes that we made, Dickies Arena is among the premier multipurpose venues in all of North America.

“In addition to Bob Tallman’s comment, the greatest compliment we have received was from George Strait’s sound guy, who came to Dickies Arena a couple of months ahead of his performance and said the facility was so perfect that they would not need to bring any auxiliary sound equipment.”

It sure sounds like Chris Jordan has led his company to achieve its mission to entertain, educate and edify.

Along the way,  Electro Acoustics has become known locally, regionally and nationally for innovation and creative solutions.

“Over the years, we have worked directly with manufacturers to provide custom solutions that are not available off the shelf,” Jordan says. “We were the first to design speaker boxes that featured the large horn on the top and the cone speaker on the bottom into a single unit. That design has become the standard of the industry today.”

With all that innovation, it seems fair to assume Jordan owns a lot of patents. How many does he have?

“None,” he says. “I just wanted to create custom solutions and we never wanted to enter the manufacturing business. We’ve been so busy customizing audio/visual designs and installations that we never took the time to explore patents.”

In January, Chris and Sue Jordan were vacationing in Colorado when he received a message to return a call. On the returned call, Jordan learned that he was being inducted into the Systems Contractors News (SCN) Hall of Fame.

SCN had named Electro Acoustics’ installation at Dickies Arena its 2019 Installation of the Year, and also cited Jordan’s leadership role with such major manufacturers as Electro-Voice and JBL in creating designs now used throughout the industry.

Electro Acoustics designs and installations are visible throughout Fort Worth-Dallas and beyond – and that very first customer, Westminster Presbyterian Church, remains a showcase. Westminster recently engaged the company to design and update the church’s audio system.

As part of a five-year plan, Dec. 31 marked 66-year-old Chris Jordan’s final day as an owner of Electro Acoustics. He has completed the sale of the company to his two sons, CEO Luke and COO Sam, who have been the primary operators of the company for the past two years. Luke joined the company 12 years ago and Sam joined six years ago.

Electro Acoustics is a family business successfully transitioning to a second generation. The company was named Fort Worth’s 2020 Small Business of the Year, Texas Institute for Family Business’ 2019 Best Managed Family Business, 2017 Top Family Business in Tarrant County, and 2017 Entrepreneur of Excellence.

“I have not attended a single management meeting in the past year because I have totally released myself from day-to-day management,” says Jordan. “Sue and I are so proud to see our sons be such close friends and thrive in their personal and business lives. We enjoy a weekly get-together over dinner with the entire family – something that we will cherish forever.

“This transition of roles has allowed me to follow some of my passions, such as helping create the Rotary Minority Business Awards program that is recognizing and providing opportunities for minority-owned businesses in the Fort Worth area. It means a lot to me that I’m helping open new opportunities for people who need them.”

A prime example of his legacy in working with others to bring change is the expansion of the Fort Worth Rotary Club of Fort Worth from seven minority business owners or managers as members three years ago to 55 minority business owners or managers today.

More than 40 Rotary clubs in the country have indicated interest in replicating the Rotary Minority Business Awards Program.

Things have changed for Chris Jordan and Electro Acoustics. Speakers that were at one time small are now taller than he is; $10,000 is no longer a career-defining project.

Yet things are also the same with the focus on innovation and leadership. This second generation continues to follow the first generation: They are not only willing but eager to sign their name proudly on the quality of their work.

A hall-of-famer’s vision and innovation got them where they are and they will continue the Electro Acoustics focus to entertain, educate, and edify.

By the way, that $143,000 total volume from 1984 is approximately the volume that today’s Electro Acoustics reaches in just four days.