Reimagining Gibson Brands with Cesar Gueikian
March 16, 2021 / Share:
“When I was able to afford an electric guitar, I bought one in the US with money from a tennis competition. I took it back home to Argentina, sold it for double what I’d paid for it and then came back to the US for my next tennis tournament and bought a Gibson Les Paul. I was 13 years old, and that’s where everything starts for me.”
The son of Armenian refugees in Argentina, Cesar Gueikian has been fascinated by music since he discovered the Spanish guitar kept wrapped up in his family’s home. When he was old enough, he began to teach himself to play, inspired by bands like Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Tool, Guns N Roses, Metallica and Alice in Chains.
As a teenager, he worked on mastering the instrument and once he started earning money, he started buying guitars and taking them apart, transfixed with finding out what made each one unique, acquiring “a lot of useless knowledge.”
After a graduate degree from the University of Chicago, he launched into a career in the financial sector, working with companies like Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch & Co., UBS and his own firm, the musically named Melody Capital Partners.
Over the last twenty years he has been investing in companies around the world, turning them around to put them back into growth mode. In some cases, this meant rehabbing businesses. In his words: “Buy the debt of a company that is unable to repay it, effectuate a change of control, then put it back into growth mode.”
In 2009, he was introduced to the Gibson team at that time, as “the crazy Gibson guy,” a major collector with over 80 Gibson guitars. A few years later, Melody Capital started purchasing the debt that Gibson has issued to acquire consumer audio businesses, which were struggling.
From Gueikian’s perspective, Gibson had begun to lose focus and the spark that had made it an iconic brand all those years ago. The highly-curated product line that had been favorites of well-known artists such as Nick Lucas, Maybelle Carter, Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Les Paul, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Elvis, BB King, Dolly Parton, Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, James Taylor, Bob Marley, Sheryl Crow, Adam Jones and Slash to name a few, was being forgotten.
So, Cesar’s Melody Capital teamed up with KKR & Co. to purchase the struggling company.
“It was more about the passion to see Gibson succeed. It was this iconic brand that has been the sound of every genre of music for 127 years. I wanted to see it do well, be relevant, played and loved again, inspiring and shaping sound for future generations; it’s a noble cause” Gueikian said.
They hired James Curleigh as CEO, and finally Gueikian was able to put all of those years of passionately disassembling and reassembling guitars to use, balancing past and future of the brand and its products, paying tribute to Gibson’s iconic past, becoming a custodian of the Gibson history and a steward of its future.
For Cesar, there were a handful of priorities that needed to be tackled to get Gibson back on track.
First, the company would need to return to its core purpose: being a guitar company again, reestablishing a new sense of mission. “Leverage how iconic we’ve been, leverage our heritage and drive innovation into the future. Focus and protect our core of guitars, but at the same time expand for more in a smart way. Make Gibson more accessible, into the hands of more guitarists and remain culturally engaged and connected to music” said Gueikian.
“Be in service to quality, sound and craftsmanship, own the largest share of sound and get back to being the most relevant, loved and played music company in the world” adds Gueikian.
Second, expanding, but in the right way: With the new team at the helm, Gibson has grown its line of in-studio equipment by renewing the KRK brand, while at the same time relaunching the Kramer and Epiphone guitar brands and acquiring the iconic amp company Mesa/Boogie, widely known as the “home of tone”.
And finally, trading transactions for experiences: Creating new ways for artists to give input on Gibson products at the company’s new innovation labs, and new ways for customers to interact through GibsonTV and the Gibson Garage experience, which opens in June.
In the two years since, the company has moved its headquarters to Cummings Station on 10th Avenue, launched a television network (GibsonTV) and a charitable foundation (Gibson Gives), built a new global distribution center, invested in their “craftories” where Gibson guitars are made in Nashville, TN and Bozeman, MT.
They’ve become a guitar company again, he said. And that means that they can focus more on building instruments and experiences that are meant to last forever.
“When JC and I took over, the sum of the parts were less than the parts themselves. There was negative synergy, and we’ve organized so that in a year, we had positive synergy. Our people are excited to be part of Gibson again,” he said.