James “JC” Curleigh joined Gibson Brands Inc. as president and CEO on Nov. 1. The Music & Sound Retailer obtained an interview with the iconic brand’s new leader. For the entire interview, check out the December issue of the Music & Sound Retailer.
The Retailer: Please take us back to the moment you were named Gibson CEO. Can you tell us where you were, who said you got the job and who you immediately contacted after about it?
Curleigh: Earlier in the year, I heard some “rumblings” about some challenges at Gibson, and then in May, those challenges materialized into bankruptcy. As a leader of one of the most iconic brands (Levi’s) and as a passionate musician, I wanted to find a way to find a way to connect with Gibson to provide some guidance on “turnaround” situations. Then in June, I actually got a call from Gibson’s new ownership (to be), KKR. After several energizing sessions, it was clear to me that this opportunity was right for me, for the Gibson Brand(s) and for the extended stakeholder base. Our recently appointed chairman, Nat Zilkha, was the one who let me know that my next chapter was going to be with Gibson. The fact that Nat is also a passionate musician made a real difference to my decision, as did the rest of the KKR folks.
The Retailer: Please tell us about your leadership style, mantras you live by and the best advice you ever received.
Curleigh: My leadership style really depends on the situation . . . otherwise known as situational leadership! I am not afraid to lead from the front when required, I am known as a collaborator, and I am also comfortable when other (proven) leaders take the lead in their respective area of experience and expertise. I truly believe in being “aggressively patient or patiently aggressive” when to comes to making smart decisions. Some of the best advice I have ever received came from my father, who was a general in the military. He once told me, “Don’t just have a plan B, have two plan A’s.”
The Retailer: Please tell us about your love for the music instrument industry. What instruments do you play, and why did you want to take on the Gibson role?
Curleigh: I have always been passionate about music, from multiple angles. I love listening to music, playing music and going to live shows. The opportunity to actually be in the music industry is a great intersection of my personal passion and my professional experience. I play the guitar (mostly acoustic) and I also love to make music by singing, playing the piano, and sometimes the drums.
The Retailer: You’ve been in the job a very short amount of time. What are your first impressions of the job? Take us through what you do on a daily basis thus far.
Curleigh: As with any new role, I have been in listening-and-learning mode for the first few weeks as I shape my initial opinions. While there is clearly work to be done to re-build Gibson and our various brands, I have been very encouraged by the initial support from the music industry at large. This includes support from my own team in Nashville and around the world.
The Retailer: Have you set forth future goals for Gibson at this stage in your early tenure there?
Curleigh: As mentioned, I have been in active listening mode, and my focus has been on determining how to set future conditions for success for our brands, our products, our business, our team and our extended partner base.