Starkey Hearing Technologies

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Starkey Hearing Technologies
IndustryHearing instruments
FounderWilliam F. Austin
Area served
Key people
William F. Austin, Founder and CEO
Tani Austin, Co-Founder, Starkey Hearing Foundation
Brandon Sawalich, President
ProductsHearing instruments
Number of employees
ca. 5000 (2017)[1]

Starkey Hearing Technologies is an American privately owned company based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota that makes hearing aids.

In 1967, William F. Austin started a small hearing aid repair store after dropping out of medical school. In 1970, he purchased an ear mold company called Starkey Labs for $13,000.[2] Under Austin, Starkey started manufacturing hearing aids, and became known for its customer service. The company offered the industry's first 90-day trial period, and repaired hearing aids made by other companies. In 1983, the company's sales doubled when Ronald Reagan started wearing its hearing aids while he was president, which caused a manufacturing crisis at the company to meet demand.[2] In 2014, Starkey introduced Halo, a hearing aid that works with the iPhone and an associated app.[3]

Starkey's president Jerry Ruzicka, who had been with the company for 38 years, was fired in September 2015, along with a handful of senior managers.[4] In September 2016, federal prosecutors charged Ruzicka and four others with stealing around 20 million dollars from Starkey and a supplier since 2006.[5] The fired employees, including one who was not indicted, sued the company in civil court for wrongful termination and other matters.[6] Ruzicka's lawyers claimed that Austin knew more about his dealings than he was admitting to.[7] During the embezzlement trial, Bill Austin was found to have provided false testimony to the court, causing some of his statements to be struck from the record.[8] In March 2018, Jerry Rusicka was found guilty of 8 charges including mail and wire fraud. [9]

In March 2016, the company introduced high-tech hearing aids with more powerful processes and software, aimed at aging baby boomers; their marketing emphasized ability to hear music well.[10]

In 2016 management said to employees and the press that its business was strong despite the disruption caused by the scandal and litigation, with sales of $800 million the prior year.[2] A report in the Star Tribune noted that Starkey faced challenges at that time; its number of new patent filings had fallen, it had slipped to second place in sales to the Veteran's Administration, a key market for hearing aid companies, and sales of hearing aids to consumers were shifting more to big box stores like Costco or proprietary dealerships, but Starkey had committed itself to selling directly to independent audiologists.[2]

In July 2017, Brandon Sawalich, who joined Starkey in 1994, was named company president, succeeding Austin, who retained the role of CEO.[1]

Starkey Hearing Foundation was set up by Austin in 1984 to provide hearing aids to people who cannot afford them.[2] It operates around the world and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative.[11][12] It raises money to fund these efforts through an annual gala that is attended by various celebrities.[2][13]

Bill Austin with a person being helped through the Starkey Hearing Foundation.


  1. ^ a b "Press release: Starkey Hearing Technologies Appoints Brandon Sawalich as President". Starkey via GlobeNewswire. July 6, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Meitrodt, Jeffrey; DePass, Dee (February 20, 2016). "Messy split at Starkey Hearing is making industry waves". Star Tribune.
  3. ^ Manjoo, Farhad (23 April 2014). "App-Controlled Hearing Aid Improves Even Normal Hearing". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "Fired Starkey Hearing Technologies president hires lawyer". Star Tribune. 11 September 2015. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Press release: Five Indicted For Massive Fraud Perpetrated Against Starkey Laboratories". US Department of Justice. September 21, 2016.
  6. ^ DePass, Dee (April 13, 2017). "Starkey argues 'too many red flags' in bid to group defendants in lawsuit". Star Tribune.
  7. ^ Tindera, Michela. "Runaway Billionaire: Meet The CEO Whose Company Descended Into Fraud, Embezzlement and Betrayal". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  8. ^ "Federal judge rules that Starkey owner Bill Austin perjured himself". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  9. ^ "Former Starkey President Jerry Ruzicka found guilty on multiple counts in $20 million embezzlement trial". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  10. ^ DePass, Dee (March 19, 2016). "New Starkey hearing aid will help people not to miss a beat". Star Tribune.
  11. ^ Cohen, Tom (August 5, 2013). "Bill, Chelsea Clinton return to Africa for foundation work -". CNN.
  12. ^ Stanley, Craig (October 15, 2012). "A teenager meets her 'hearing angels'". NBC News.
  13. ^ Mehta, Raghav (July 18, 2016). "Starkey Gala 2016: We ask Johnny Depp about Pokémon, Jay Leno about Prince". City Pages.

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