Starkey’s Bill Austin Is Helping People To Hear & Listen To Each Other

Yitzi Weiner @ Authority Magazine
Authority Magazine
Through Starkey Hearing Foundation, hearing missions around the world and long-term AfterCare programs have continued to provide support and resources in the communities we’ve served. We don’t just pack up and leave once a mission is done. The teams work to equip these communities with the resources they need to embrace hearing health care together. Since the Foundation’s inception in 1984, they have helped over 1 million people in more than 70 countries worldwide with hearing health resources and hearing aids.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Austin.

Bill Austin is the Owner and Chairman of Starkey and the Founder of Starkey Hearing Foundation. Through the Foundation, Bill and his wife, Tani Austin, have volunteered in more than 100 countries to give the gift of hearing and have established hearing health care clinics and AfterCare services in 70 countries to date. Recently, Starkey launched a corporate social responsibility program called Starkey Cares. In 2022, Starkey Cares partnered with Special Olympics to support athletes around the world with hearing health resources they may not have access to otherwise. Starkey is the largest American-owned hearing aid manufacturer.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was a teenager when I began working in my uncle’s hearing aid repair shop in 1961. I can still remember the first time I saw a man be fit with hearing aids. I’ll never forget seeing the look on his face. As soon as the hearing aids were on, he lit up. You could see his demeanor change immediately as he began taking in the world around him in full volume for the first time. At that moment, I knew I wanted to make this impact on as many people as possible through the hearing industry.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Through my more than 60 years in the hearing industry, one of the most interesting things to me is that regardless of how vastly the technology inside hearing aids has evolved and changed, the importance of human connection has not. This technology and this industry have always had a singular purpose, and that’s to help people. When you can hear better, you can truly live better.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan became the first U.S. president to go public with hearing loss after he was fit with a Starkey hearing aid. For our industry, it was a monumental shift in how the public perceived hearing loss. For me, it reinforced that anyone could have hearing loss and that personalized care for each patient is the best path forward.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Many new business owners stick to the status quo, but I did not. When I began working at Starkey in 1967, I was more interested in bringing care back into the work we were doing. Once I had witnessed the impact hearing aids could make on a person, I realized every single pair had the same potential to make someone with hearing loss feel reconnected to their world, and in turn, allow them to share that positive impact with others. Starkey was the first to implement a risk-free, 90-day return policy on our products, and everyone thought I was crazy, but I didn’t think anyone should have to keep a hearing aid they weren’t completely satisfied with. I knew if we put the customer first, we could truly learn how to make our products and services better for the future. Through the years, Starkey has continued to innovate with the patient experience in mind.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Through Starkey Hearing Foundation, hearing missions around the world and long-term AfterCare programs have continued to provide support and resources in the communities we’ve served. We don’t just pack up and leave once a mission is done. The teams work to equip these communities with the resources they need to embrace hearing health care together. Since the Foundation’s inception in 1984, they have helped over 1 million people in more than 70 countries worldwide with hearing health resources and hearing aids.

Often, the communities we serve through the Foundation don’t have the resources or hearing health infrastructure in place to continue care after our teams leave. We opened the Starkey Hearing Institute in Zambia in 2015, operated through the Foundation, to arm the next generation of hearing health care professionals with the education and tools to serve their communities for years to come. Through hands-on training and professional development, we proudly continued safe and virtual programming through the pandemic. Since opening, more than 60 hearing health professionals have graduated from our programs and gone on to serve their communities. It’s our greatest accomplishment to have created something that will live on well past my time and continue to spread good in this world.

In May of 2021, we launched Starkey’s corporate social responsibility program, Starkey Cares, with a focus on uplifting different communities through the gift of hearing. In 2022, just days before World Hearing Day, we began a global partnership with Special Olympics and Dr. Tim Shriver to continue our goal of helping as many people around the world as possible. Hearing your surroundings in sports is crucial, whether it be your coach’s encouragement from the sideline or the starting gun at the beginning of a race. We’re proud to partner with such a caring organization dedicated to inclusion and kindness, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to support the hearing health of thousands of athletes around the world.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’ve met countless people facing enormous challenges in this world who have inspired and impacted me. Sometimes, people without access to hearing health resources are forced to make a choice between treating their hearing loss and supporting their families.

Starkey Hearing Foundation visited Kenya in 2017. There was a local fisherman by the name of Said Mahsen, and he was feeling disconnected from his world due to his hearing loss. He couldn’t afford hearing aids and was considering selling his boat to pay for them. Without his boat, he had no means to fish and support his family. He heard from someone in his community that we were coming to town and that we were offering free hearing health resources to anyone who needed them. I still remember meeting Said and seeing how much it meant to him that we cared. His story is not uncommon, but each one has impacted me and motivated me to continue this work.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First, if you are lucky enough to have your hearing, protect it. Research has shown how our hearing health greatly impacts our overall health and wellbeing. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to an increased risk of falls, social isolation and even developing dementia.

Secondly, it’s important to understand how our hearing connects us to our communities and to the world around us. During the pandemic, it became clear how important staying connected to one another in times of need was. Without the ability to hear others and to connect in-person or virtually, people with hearing loss can feel especially cut off from the things and people that matter.

Lastly, as a society, we need to show compassion and kindness to others. We’re all familiar with the idea of a circle of kindness or the butterfly effect, but we don’t always think we have the power to create it. When you lift someone up, they feel more compelled to lift another person up, and it continues. It can spread through an entire community, and my hope is that it will spread across the world.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” It’s always been important to me to lead by example and to inspire others by showing up and being there. You must go through the tribulations to celebrate the triumphs together. My true passion lies with my teams and being able to help people with hearing loss. If you lead with your heart, care for others and do the right thing, success will follow.
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What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1 — It’s okay to do things differently. Although the industry thought I was making a mistake by implementing Starkey’s 90-day, risk-free return policy, I trusted my beliefs that no one should have to keep a product they’re not completely satisfied with. To this day, we still put the patient first at Starkey.

2 — Don’t focus on what you can’t change. We all have the individual power to make a positive impact in this world. While so much is out of our control, start by being kind to others, and the impact will spread.

3 — You need a team of caring people to be successful. I built Starkey Hearing Foundation around this premise, and through thousands of volunteers, we’ve been able to help millions of people be reconnected to their world through hearing health resources, education and hearing aids. None of it would have been possible alone.

4 — Hearing health greatly impacts your overall health. While modern research continues to reinforce this, I’ve always believed hearing aids have the power to do more for people than just help them hear better, but to help them truly live better. Through the release of Livio AI in 2018, the world’s first hearing aid to include both artificial intelligence and integrated sensors, we made this a reality by focusing on the overall wellbeing of patients. We continue to make innovative products that not only help people hear better but help them live better, healthier lives.

5 — While hearing health research, technology and legislation advances, never forget your “why.” When I began working in this industry, it was to positively impact people’s lives through the gift of hearing. Over six decades, I’ve always kept the purpose of our work close to my heart.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Starkey Hearing Foundation’s goal is: So the World May Hear. Though we have made great progress in connecting over 1 million people with hearing health resources, I hope to continue our movement to provide the gift of hearing to as many people as possible with kindness and long-term care through Starkey Hearing Institute. By providing hands-on training, education and resources to empower the next generation of hearing health care professionals, graduates can share this knowledge within their own communities for years to come. When I think of bringing good to this world, it’s by ensuring everyone in our world has access to hearing health care.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My personal philosophy has always been, “Alone we can’t do much. Together we can change the world.” Through my more than six decades in the hearing industry, working alongside thousands of caring individuals in hundreds of countries across the world, I have seen firsthand how impactful a small group of people can be. When you give one person the gift of hearing, you help them reconnect to their family, community and world. Training one hearing health care professional can equip their entire community with resources for years to come. When we all come together with a common goal to do good, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Starkey Hearing Foundation has been blessed by many caring and well-known individuals who have traveled the world with us to connect communities in need with hearing health resources, from Mother Teresa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I’ve always been grateful to those who have used their platform or dedicated their time to help our cause and fuel our mission.

How can our readers follow you on social media?





This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine's Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. Yitzi is also the author of five books. In 2017, he created the popular, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series that highlights the empowering lessons learned from the experiences of high-profile entrepreneurs and public figures. This series has inspired a mini-movement among writers, with scores of writers worldwide profiling inspiring people to share their positive, empowering, and actionable stories. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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