At first glance, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a rebel underneath Henry Juszkiewicz’s soft-spoken Harvard Business School exterior.
Yet 21 years ago, in true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, Juszkiewicz shocked workers at the Gibson Guitar Corp. factory in Nashville, Tenn., when he smashed a guitar on the factory floor. He was proving a point that he and business partners David Berryman and Gary Zebrowski, who purchased the company in January 1986, didn’t want the Gibson name on junky guitars.
A month after taking over as Gibson’s chairman and CEO, Juszkiewicz turned a profit for the ailing guitar company. Two decades later, his name routinely appears with some of the top names in music, as he leads the privately held company into a digital future.
But pulling Gibson’s strings and hobnobbing with musicians is just part of the story for this Rochester native and 1971 graduate of Irondequoit’s Bishop Kearney High School, who was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in November.
Alumni association head Steve Cataldi of Webster, Class of 1977, said Juszkiewicz was chosen because he has continued to support the school’s music department and musical theater.
Giving his time and money is a habit Juszkiewicz said he picked up at Bishop Kearney.
“I think it’s important, if you are fortunate and able to do well, to share that with people who are not able to,” Juszkiewicz said. “We feel that’s a very important part of our company.”
That’s why Gibson and Juszkiewicz have taken the lead in putting musical instruments back in the hands of more than 2,200 Gulf Coast musicians who lost them during Hurricane Katrina. That charity, Music Rising, has teamed him with The Edge, the guitarist from the rock band U2, and music producer Bob Ezrin.
Juszkiewicz said the trio dreamed up the Music Rising charity when they saw the storm take away professional musicians’ prized instruments and their livelihoods.
“If they lose their ability to make money, it’s devastating,” said Juszkiewicz, who in 2002 founded Gibson Guitar’s charitable arm, the Gibson Foundation.
The foundation recently launched the second phase of Music Rising, which he said will provide instruments to Gulf Coast churches and schools. The campaigns have attracted the support of groups including Guitar Center Music Foundation, MusicCares, Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and All Congregations Together.
The Gibson Foundation has pledged more than $1 million to the campaign through sales of a limited-edition guitar. Additional money was raised through the sale of the Grammy-nominated song “The Saints Are Coming,” a collaboration between rock groups U2 and Green Day, who reopened the Louisiana Superdome in September.
Juszkiewicz’s philanthropy has already attracted the attention of the music world. Alongside guitar legend and Gibson pitchman Les Paul, Juszkiewicz was honored in 2005 with a Patron of the Arts Award by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Music Rising campaign received the 2006 Billboard Humanitarian Award.
Juszkiewicz said he grew up near Bishop Kearney and attended grammar school at Rochester’s St. Andrew School. At Bishop Kearney, he participated in softball, Boy Scouts, drama club and was a Big Brother to needy kids. Music also played a significant role during his high-school career: Juszkiewicz played bass in the orchestra and guitar in the stage band.
“I considered tuba, but I never took it up,” he said.
Former classmate Tom Erb, who now lives in Austin, Texas, said Juszkiewicz wasn’t bold or outgoing but was nice and an electronics whiz.
“He was a great guy — very intelligent and deep,” Erb said.
Juszkiewicz got his corporate start by studying automotive electronics in an engineering cooperative program run by the General Motors Institute. He worked at Delco’s Rochester plant while moonlighting on guitar in bands that played parties and weddings. He also took night classes at the University of Rochester for his master’s degree in business administration and finished it at Harvard in 1979 on a General Motors Fellowship.
After earning his graduate degree, Juszkiewicz worked for a New York City investment bank, overseeing mergers and acquisitions. He left that post in 1981 when he and two Harvard classmates acquired Phi Technologies of Oklahoma City. They turned a profit within a month, and, five years later, they bought the nearly bankrupt Gibson from the Norlin Corp.
Juszkiewicz said the corporate fit was just right.
“Gibson provided me with the ideal opportunity to combine business and my passion for music,” he said.
Gibson also quickly became profitable, as Juszkiewicz refocused marketing efforts on consumers, rather than retailers. Today Gibson sells a variety of instrument brands, such as Baldwin and Wurlitzer.
Juszkiewicz is on the board of directors of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, the Rainforest Alliance and the Grammy Foundation. He lives in Nashville with his wife and three children, but said he still has family in the Rochester area.
Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Hall of Fame, said Juszkiewicz comes across as humble and unassuming, but his contributions have been unparalleled.
“It’s great to have a generous person on the board, but it’s also great to have a person who is a marketing genius,” he said.
Young said Juszkiewicz was the inspiration behind GuitarTown Nashville, a guitar-themed public-art project that raised thousands for four Nashville nonprofits, including the Hall of Fame. It drew attention to Nashville’s music heritage, artists and nonprofits and spawned an Austin, Texas, spinoff, he noted.
Whether it’s by giving to charity or making guitars, Juszkiewicz seems to motivate others through his example. Take the guitar smashing that inaugurated his Gibson career. Juszkiewicz said back then some guitars didn’t meet company specifications, but they were still being sold as seconds, harming Gibson’s reputation.
That’s when Juszkiewicz started the weekly destruction ritual, which continues two decades later.
“We take a band saw to them,” Juszkiewicz said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Details on Music Rising are available at www.musicrising.org. Donations to the Gibson Foundation/Music Rising may be mailed to Gibson Foundation, 309 Plus Park Blvd., Nashville, TN 37217.