Mst Logo

How has he transformed the scene?

Born in Nixa, Missouri in 1942, William Austin’s life took an unexpected turn here in Minnesota. Austin had left home at age 19 and was enrolled in a pre-med program at the University of Minnesota when he took a part-time job with a Minneapolis dealer of hearing aids. Within a matter of months, he had dropped his dream of becoming a doctor, opened a hearing instruments shop in St. Louis Park, and was on his way toward building what would become the nation’s largest supplier of hearing solutions, with manufacturing operations in 26 countries around the globe.

“One man who has helped thousands, by showing hearing is a road to the heart.”

Peter Alexander, Correspondent, NBC News

In 1971, Austin acquired a small earmold company—Starkey Labs—and merged his business enterprises as Starkey Laboratories, Inc. Over the course of the next three decades he would shepherd the company to its current position as a world leader in auditory rehabilitation and amplification, largely by driving innovation in custom hearing instruments and diagnostic equipment. Austin is credited with development of some of the industry’s first in-the-canal hearing aids in the 1980s. Many years—and innovations—later, Starkey Laboratories remains on the cutting edge, leading the way into the 21st Century with introduction of the first hearing aid to utilize both nano and digital technology. Hand in hand with technological advances have been campaigns to raise public awareness about the causes of hearing loss and ways to protect hearing.

But those who have followed Austin’s life and career will say that his accomplishments in corporate leadership of Starkey Laboratories—however great their scope and impact—are not the full measure of the man.

William Austin is simply and purely driven by a desire to help people hear, regardless of whether they can afford the technology that makes it possible.

The nonprofit Starkey Hearing Foundation began as a battery-recycling program to support hearing services to low-income Americans. Through donations and the work of volunteers, including William Austin himself, the nonprofit now delivers more than 50,000 free hearing aids each year—many of them to children—through mission trips in the U.S. and to countries around the world. Teams of audiologists and hearing-aid technicians move from community to community, nation to nation, changing lives at every stop along the way. Since the year 2000, nearly 350,000 free hearing aids have been distributed through the Foundation’s “So the World May Hear” campaign. Although he has fitted celebrities and presidents with hearing aids, Austin says he takes greatest satisfaction from his regular participation in the global mission trips. “Of course, it’s fun to help a movie star,” says Austin, “but the best is to see a child react when he first hears. I wish I could go on all the mission trips we conduct each year. The things we see are so remarkable. It’s like you snapped on a light switch and let them hear the world.”

For more information on the William Austin and the Starkey Hearing Foundation, see: