He is a member of four halls of fame. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has awarded him a lifetime achievement award. His name is etched on an Emmy.
Eddy Hartenstein has received many accolades as an engineer, communications pioneer and newspaper executive, but the honorary doctorate that he will receive in June during the College of Engineering’s graduation ceremony holds special significance.
“I was blown away when President Ortiz called me,” Hartenstein says emphatically. “To have my alma mater, which was the basis for me having the right credentials to both enter Caltech as a graduate student and get my first professional job, bestow an honorary doctorate is near to my heart.”
Ortiz says the honor is fitting for someone whose accomplishments have touched so many lives.
“Eddy Hartenstein should be a role model for every student who graduates from Cal Poly Pomona,” Ortiz says. “His career success is a reflection not only of his sharp mind, but of his vision and passion. You simply cannot overstate the impact he has had in the world of communication. And on a personal level, while he’s a really bright guy, he’s unassuming, approachable and personable. I always look forward to talking and spending time with him.”
Hartenstein is one of two recipients of an honorary doctorate this year from Cal Poly Pomona. Entrepreneur and fellow alumnus Ron Gregoire will receive his doctorate from the College of Business Administration.
Hartenstein arrived at Cal Poly Pomona in the late 1960s in the midst of the race to the moon between the United States and the Soviet Union. The university, with its learn-by-doing ethos and well-respected aerospace engineering program, proved to be a natural fit. It was in the engineering labs and classrooms where he honed his critical thinking skills, but he is quick to point out that other professors, including those in the English department, helped lay the foundation for his academic success.
“How you write up a report, how you write a senior project, is every bit as important as the engineering analysis work. Oftentimes, you’d solve a problem correctly, but if you were not able to communicate it and show the steps of how you got to the solution, your work was returned to you with a note saying ‘Right answer. Awful communication.’ If you’re going to get a C on a project for no reason other than you could not explain how you came to the solution, you figured out how to explain it so you could get an A.”
If his English professors were instrumental in his ability to communicate, his engineering professors were difference-makers in preparing him for professional life, because they instilled in him and his peers a commitment to succeed.
“They were all very deeply steeped in the technology, but as importantly, they had the other foot firmly planted in the real world — in the companies that would be looking to hire us. They had a great sense of purpose. It was not about just learning the theory and how to pass the test. It was how to pass the test of life.”
By the time Hartenstein graduated in 1972 with a double major in aerospace engineering and math, the United States had landed on the moon five times and was looking to take on other challenges. He turned his attention to graduate studies at Caltech and joined Hughes, an aerospace and communications giant in Southern California.
For years, Hughes had been planning a mission to orbit Venus and explore its atmosphere. It required deft instrumentation, two unmanned spacecraft and precise timing. There was no margin for error, so the company put some of its best minds on the project, including Hartenstein. Pioneer Venus proved to be a major success in the late 1970s.
Soon afterward, he was appointed vice president of Hughes Communications, responsible for the company’s growing fleet of commercial satellites, and when the company formed a subsidiary in 1990 to develop its nascent satellite TV service, it named Hartenstein president of the enterprise.
What followed was one of the most successful new products in consumer electronics history: DirecTV. The era of digital television had begun, and home entertainment would never be the same.
But Hartenstein wasn’t ready to tie a bow on his career. In August 2008, he became president and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, a world-class newspaper struggling to adapt to changing technology and evolving reader interests.
“Some would apply that old Monty Python phrase, ‘And now for something completely different,’ which indeed it was, but to me it has been a career capstone that I’m very proud of, and worked harder at than any other role I’ve had at any company.”
That’s because he sees running a newspaper as not just a job, but a higher calling. He will continue later this year as chairman of Tribune Publishing Company, parent to the Los Angeles Times and nine other publications.
“Democracy and society as we know it cannot work without a vibrant and free press. There’s a lot of power associated with it, and it has to be used responsibly regardless of the medium: ink on paper, a personal computer or smartphone. The need for reporting, analysis and illumination, for sifting fact from fiction, is something that will transcend the times.”
When Hartenstein returns to campus in June, he will look out on a sea of graduates four decades removed from his experience on campus, but he and they will be bound by a common experience — one that he speaks of in almost reverent tones.
“There is a rigor to the curriculum that does not exist at any other college. There are engineering graduates, and then there are Cal Poly Pomona engineering graduates. Other institutions would do themselves and this country a service by following Cal Poly’s lead.”