Q&A: Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO, Gibson Guitar
Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO and chairman of Gibson, discusses Gibson's expansion into consumer electronics and how it responded to federal government pressure to use alternative materials for guitar production.
Gibson Guitar is one of the most well known companies in the world. Its name is synonymous with excellence in music and audio.
Approximately 26 years ago, a group of investors led by Henry Juszkiewicz purchased the once proud musical instrument company, which at the time was experiencing lackluster sales and a general disinterest in its products. Shortly after acquiring the company, Juszkiewicz and his staff began the process of restoring the Gibson name to its former glory.
Today, Gibson is the preeminent guitar manufacturer, and recently Juszkiewicz set his eyes on a new industry to conquer: consumer electronics (CE). As part of Juszkiewicz’s plan to succeed in the CE market, Gibson has acquired a majority stake in Onkyo and its U.S. office.
Juszkiewicz tells CE Pro how Gibson plans to leverage its standing in the musical instrument market to succeed in the CE space, as well as how Gibson is responding to federal government pressure to use alternative materials for the production of its famed guitar line.
Several years ago, Gibson began its efforts to raise its profile within the consumer electronics community by exhibiting at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and through other initiatives such as the MaGIC connectivity protocol. Going back to the early 2000s, why did a company famous for its guitars decide to branch out into the electronics industry?
The reason is simple: Gibson is a terrific brand name that is known to everybody, yet our business before December  was selling to guitar players. We love guitar players, but that reflects about one out of 20 in the population. We looked at areas that we were comfortable in and have expertise in to look for ways to extend our brand with a broader group of buyers. Consumer electronics and audio were clearly a great potential area for us.
We had a technology we were attempting to market, but that reflects our interest in the broad consumer market.
Where does the MaGIC protocol stand right now? Do you foresee its adoption growing at any point?
There is a rich amount of information about the technology, and at this point it has mutated to AVB [audio video bridging]. There is a working group and it’s in early stage of adoption before a standard is announced. The AVnu Alliance and has a website that will describe what is happening in the field of audio video connectivity. What is happening right now is that, essentially, it has been well received in the technology community - the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] community.
MaGIC is a form of Ethernet, and we talked with the people on the 802.11 committee about it, and it was adopted by Broadcom, which is a large manufacturer of microchips. They spun it into a version called AVB. At its essence, it’s MaGIC, but it’s in a chipset you can buy. Two major industries have jumped on the adoption of AVB: Pro sound and the pro sound community are made up of groups such as churches, stadiums and clubs that use PA types of products. The second is the auto industry. You’ll see a list of members for this alliance. Effectively, the technology is alive and it’s widely adopted at this point.
Recently Gibson acquired the pro audio brands KRK, Cerwin-Vega and Stanton. Gibson then acquired a majority stake in Onkyo USA and a minority stake in Onkyo Japan. What prompted the company to make these investments and how do these moves strengthen the Gibson brand in those markets?
It’s terrifically rewarding to do something in the pro audio and consumer electronics markets. We sort of jumped into audio in a big way. The fact is we were looking for involvement in those markets for a long time. We had gotten serious about pursuing this via acquisition when we launched a corporate development program at Gibson.
This was effective and we found a number of opportunities. Two opportunities we felt were attractive for a variety of reasons: Onkyo and Stanton. The Stanton Group reflects great management, and in significant markets they are leaders in several categories. It can be difficult to do something if you don’t have component management; they do, so it was a good fit for Gibson.
It was a similar fit for Onkyo. They reflect leadership on a worldwide basis, and their management at the very top is excellent. I really like the people, and I feel they are on the same wavelength as we are with the same aspirations. It’s an excellent marriage.
Do you envision that Gibson will move to the point where it will provide a platform for its artists, which include musicians like Slash, Zakk Wylde, Jimmy Page, Alex Lifeson and others, to market their albums and videos to the consumer electronics industry through cross-promotional Gibson/Onkyo events?
Absolutely, yes … that’s a core expertise we have. It involves a certain level of excitement for the consumer, and we want to introduce that into the category. On a side note, I’ve been involved in the CE industry since that first CES. I am on the CES board, and I am knowledgeable about the industry; I studied it for a long time, and Gibson is dealing with some of the big vendors in the CE channel, so we are pretty knowledgeable.
We are all about music and music is a part of life. One of the things that is missing that I notice coming from the music maker side is that, while there are a lot of companies involved in music, none of them are working together. For example, record labels, which make their livelihoods by playing their recordings on consumer electronics devices, don’t talk to the consumer electronics manufacturers. In fact, a lot of friction has developed, yet they are dealing with the same consumers. There isn’t really the cohesive planning that it takes to raise the bar and experience for the consumer. One of the things Gibson brings to the party is the ability to talk to the several industries and to be a leader and lobby for a better consumer experience.
I feel we can do a better job if we can align everyone in the business to get them behind stuff.
Could Gibson-backed marketing initiatives using musicians such as Slash, Page, Wylde, Lifeson, etc. validate Onkyo’s future products with both audiophiles and mainstream consumers?
Absolutely. Knowing Slash and the other artists in the business, that’s their life and they spend hours in the studio. They work with the top people in the studio to get the sounds they like. It’s a lot of work, and there are producers and lots of people involved in bringing out a single song to make it perfect. Yet, there is little exchange with that level of expertise and passion and how consumers hear that sound. There needs to be.
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org
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