We start a new recurring feature with The Music People’s Sharon Hennessey.
Sharon Hennessey has been a major figure in the music industry for practically her entire life. Going from the boss’ daughter to a powerful executive in her own right as the owner and co-president of Conn.-based The Music People (TMP), Hennessey has blazed a path for women in the industry. The Music & Sound Retailer caught up with Hennessey to learn more about how her experiences shaped her role as a leader in the MI industry.
The Music & Sound Retailer: You grew up in the music business. How did those experiences affect the way you do your job at The Music People today?
Sharon Hennessey: Yes, I definitely grew up in the industry. My father worked for Ovation Guitars. When we were younger, my brother John, who serves as co-president of The Music People, and I would go into work with my dad on the weekends and “play office.” So from almost as far back as I can remember, the music business has been a part of my life.
After attending my first NAMM Show in 1989 as a college student, I knew this was the industry I wanted to build a career in. During this show, I experienced first-hand the passion and enthusiasm that is unique to the music industry. While you can’t “emulate” passion, so to speak, working in an industry that is inclusive, enthusiastic and forward-thinking has helped shape my role at The Music People.
The Retailer: What, if any, challenges did you face coming up through the ranks?
Hennessey: Being a woman in a male-dominated industry can have its challenges. Walking into a boardroom of 12 men and being the only woman can be intimidating, and I had to learn how to navigate that new world. Luckily, I had several mentors, many of them male, sharing their wisdom with me along the way. Former Guitar Center (GC) president Larry Thomas taught me to stand in my truth and not to be manipulated. My father, Jim Hennessey, who founded TMP, shared with me his can-do attitude. “No” is not in his vocabulary, and watching him work over the years has been inspiring. After a few years, I recognized that there were “wings” there for me, I just needed to put them on.
The Retailer: How have you gone about proving yourself, and how has that experience made you better at your job?
Hennessey: I proved myself by initially trying to work harder than anyone else. I was acutely aware that the perception of nepotism would follow me for some time, so I tried always being “there,” be it GC grand openings, meetings all day at every trade show, or flying and driving all over the country to meet with our customers, etc. I knew it was important to have an immediate and strong presence.
The Retailer: What was your perception of the role of women in the music industry growing up? Do you feel that things have changed since?
Hennessey: Frankly, there weren’t a lot of women in management positions back in the day. Yes, smaller companies had husband-and-wife “teams,” but it seems that my generation has seen a much greater influx of women in managerial roles. Obviously, that is not unique just in our industry, but in all types of companies — and I’d like to stress, for the better! I would also like to add that the music industry has always been ahead of the curve in terms of inclusion, as it has historically been open-minded.
I am extremely proud of the strong female leaders that are now running some of the big companies in our industry. We are heading in the right direction, but we still have some growth to go though. Through mentorship, encouragement and programs like NAMM’s SWIM (Smart Women in Music) Fund, which supports the growth of women in the musical products industry, I know we will get there.
The Retailer: Have you had the opportunity to mentor other women in the industry?
Hennessey: This is a twofold answer. Internally, we have strived to hire as many women as possible, and although I certainly offer advice and assistance by using my experiences, it never ceases to amaze what I learn from other women. I have always drawn on that to offer as well-rounded a perspective as possible when discussing challenging situations. Externally, what makes me proud is the number of times a woman has come up to me at a trade show and asked me my opinion on how I would handle a specific problem. This means so much to me that I have this stature and am respected like this in our industry. Additionally, I have been a strong supporter of SWIM, and during this past NAMM Show, I was excited to have one of SWIM’s scholarship recipients, who was attending the show for the first time, shadow me.
The Retailer: What is the biggest piece of advice you have for women in MI?
Hennessey: I truly believe in never taking “no” as an answer. The best way to achieve something is to go after it. Standing by and hoping someone will give you the “yes” you need to hear is counterproductive.
I’m also a firm believer in networking. Carving out time to meet new people and keep in touch throughout the year will open more doors than you can imagine.
The Retailer: What has been your proudest career achievement so far?
Hennessey: My proudest career moment was the seamless transition of the company from my father who founded it, to my brother and myself. During this transition, we continued to experience significant growth with minimal growing pains.
During my tenure, I’ve not only had a role in developing our sales department, but our company as a whole. We’ve grown from 17 employees to 84 worldwide, as well as started an overseas division that enhances our capabilities and continues to establish relationships with some of the most strategic companies in the industry.
The Retailer: What are some of the short- and long-term goals you still hope to achieve?
Hennessey: As far as future goals go, I’d like to continue to see the same sustained growth The Music People has experienced over the last few years. I also hope to continue to support and inspire our staff to help them reach their goals in the company.
The Retailer: In your years in the business, what have been some of the biggest changes you’ve seen? How have you worked to stay ahead of the curve?
Hennessey: The growth and size of the companies we deal with. For better or worse, it’s not like it used to be. You recognized and virtually knew everyone in the industry; that forces you to be more detail oriented, which as you grow, is essential. I have always thought one of our biggest strengths as a company was the ability to identify a problem, formulate a strategy to solve it, and then implement it.
As every year brings a new challenge (Prop 65, tariffs and now COVID-19), we have promoted a thought process of problem-solving throughout our company. With this collaboration, we can adapt and overcome. We are not paralyzed by indecision at any level.
The Retailer: If you could go back to the start of your career, what would you tell yourself?
Hennessey: Like I mentioned earlier, I would tell myself to recognize that there were “wings” there for me all along. I just needed to put them on. And yes, learning to fly has its ups and downs, but that has made all the difference.
To read more interviews with MI professionals, click here.