Quick Stats: Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO Gibson Guitar Corp.
Daily Driver: 2006 Lexus RX400h (Henry's rating 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: 1996 BMW Z3 and a 1926 Rolls Royce
Favorite road trip: Driving cross country to California and Florida
Car he learned to drive in: Chevrolet Impala
First car bought: Oldsmobile
Juszkiewicz (back left) and Dave Berryman, President of Gibson with Larry Carlton, Johnny
Henry Juszkiewicz is not just the saavy CEO that brought global awareness to the Gibson Guitar brand, with marketing efforts from renaming Hollywood's Universal Amphitheater down to customizing a Harley with an inlaid Gibson. He is also an executive who got his start in another inbred tribe -- the auto industry.
It was the mid-1970s -- during the country's last oil crisis. Juszkiewicz attended the Flint, Michigan-based General Motors Institute, a five-year coop engineering college. He worked for the Delco division in Rochester, New York, going to school half the time and working the other half.
At Delco, Juszkiewicz held a variety of jobs from installing robots to computer work to injection molding. Upon graduation, he worked two years as a project engineer. But music was also part of his life.
"I loved gadgets and cars and guitars, so it was a lot of fun," he says of his college life. "I had a band at GMI. We used to play all the time -- do gigs around Rochester." Even back then, he played a Gibson.
Juszkiewicz went on to Harvard Business School on a GM fellowship and left the auto industry for investment banking and never looked back. "I wasn't in the right place," he says of his first career choice. "If my ambition was to go up the ladder, which it was, you really had to be in Detroit. There were places you had to be to make it in GM, and I wasn't in one of those places. So that was detrimental, and GM was going through a lot of leadership changes at the time. I was pretty disenchanted with the direction of the corporation."
Car he learned to drive inGrowing up in Rochester, Juszkiewicz learned to drive in his parents' Chevy Impala. He doesn't remember the model year, only that it "had big fins." He adds, "Fortunately, I was not involved in any vehicular accidents."
First car boughtAt GMI, Juszkiewicz bought an Oldsmobile that had a "monster engine," he says. "This was one big car. It had a 500-hp turbocharged engine, it made the Hummer look fuel-efficient. Since I had friends in the business, it was a pretty hot-rodded vehicle."
But it had its problems. "I was driving in the middle of winter through the boonies in Canada, and I tried to start up the car and it wouldn't start, it would just rev up. It turns out GM was experimenting with a new timing gear and decided to use plastic instead of metal. Pretty much every car that had that gear would blow up in three years," Juszkiewicz laughs. "Not in the sense of an explosion, but it was pretty fried because the plastic disintegrated. It went all through everything. It was a major problem."
Photo by Sandy Campbell
Juszkiewicz's daily driver is a hybrid, the 2006 Lexus RX 400h, which he rates a 9.5 out of 10. "It's got a lot of power if you want it, which is interesting for a hybrid, but it's really quiet and smooth and drives well," he says. "The interior is very comfortable. Then on top of that, I'm really getting really great gas mileage for a larger vehicle." He figures he gets about 25 mpg.
But before the hybrid, Juszkiewicz was on the opposite side of the carbon-emission spectrum, with a Hummer H2. "I was considering the H1, the first big Hummer, but it had a lot of reliability problems in talking to people who had them. So I had one of the first H2s before they actually had dealer network and I really liked it. Of course, it wasn't very fuel efficient, but it had a lot of attitude and it was comfortable to drive."
Since he lives less than 10 minutes from work in Nashville, Tennessee, Juszkiewicz hardly drove the H2. "So I felt comfortable conscience-wise. I filled up once a month," he laughs. "But then it sort of became a symbol of evil to the conservation movement. Even though I don't feel bad about it, I can't be driving a symbol of excess."
Photoby Sandy Campbell
Juszkiewicz is on the board of the environmental group Rainforest Alliance. "So I say, 'I'll get a hybrid, which is a symbol of not-excess,' of doing the right thing. It doesn't have quite the attitude. When the H2s first came out, I would pull in a parking lot, people used to take pictures of it. They'd cluster around, it really gained a lot of attention. It was interesting to drive that for a while."
Other cars in his collection
As a busy executive, Juszkiewicz has two other cars he doesn't get to drive as much as he'd like. One is the South Carolina-made 1996 BMW Z3, with a manual transmission. "It's a really nice driving car and that's very efficient actually because it's a small car."
Juszkiewicz's other notable ride is a 1926 Rolls-Royce, which he rarely drives, and when he does, it's just around the streets of Nashville. "It's really a gas to drive, it's not something you want to drive a lot, but it's really spectacular looking."
Photo by Sandy Campbell
Favorite road trip
Although Juszkiewicz is too busy now to road trip, he does like driving cross-country. "Several times during college, I would just get in the car and drive to California and Florida," he says. "I did a lot of driving when I was young and I really enjoyed it. That's when you had time."
Worst car ever bought
Being part of GM had its perks, such as buying cars through the GM employee discount program. During one of his cross-country trips in the mid-1970s, he drove his worst car, which was GM's effort to compete in the subcompact market. "At one point I had a new Chevy Vega, and I took it on a cross-country trip. That was when GM was experimenting with aluminum blocks, and I totaled the engine -- just by driving it," Juszkiewicz contends. "Not a great car. They were only out for a few years."
Juszkiewicz accepts his Humanitarian Award at the 2008 We Are Family Foundation Honors
Automakers such as General Motors
When Jusckiewicz took over Gibson in 1986, he led it out of financial trouble, turning over a profit within a month. Catapulting Gibson into one of the most recognizeable brands in the world, he has one management tip for his auto counterparts: Just learn from GM's gloried past, during the reign of Alfred P. Sloan.
"The one thing I always felt was car companies really did not have was a good sense of their consumers," Juszkiewicz says. "The entire industry is cloistered and inbred. A lot of industries are that way. One of the things I didn't like at the time I was at GM. I don't know what the situation is now, but the old regime of Al Sloan who ran GM from like 1918 to 1955 -- he really liked cars. He was a car guy. He loved customers and he used to visit dealers and was very involved in the business on many levels including the consumer level."
Juszkiewicz says the power in GM back when he was learning the ropes was in accounting and the "passion of the business" was gone.
Juszkiewicz and Conan O'Brien in Las Vegas at the CES show
"Every business absolutely has to make money and you have to meet numbers, which is fundamental to long-term success," he says. "But overlaid on every really successful business is somebody who likes it and is driven by it on a passion level. Without that, you're at a competitive disadvantage."
In addition to the need for more green cars, Juszkiewicz says styling is lacking in a lot of today's cars. "From a form, fit,and function standpoint, they can be improved. From a safety standpoint, they can be improved. There's a tendency for industries to always fight change, and that change always comes anyway. Progressive management leads change and makes it part of the success formula."
Juszkiewicz knows a thing or two about passion and leadership. Although he's been with Gibson 22 years, his voice still lightens talking about new product. "The latest greatest thing is introducing robotics into the guitar," he says. "We have a Robot Guitar with nanotechnology, which is incredible and has been successful."
Gibson's Robot Guitar
In December, Gibson offered the self-tuning Robot Guitar, which takes the effort out of restringing. They made several thousand blue silverburst guitars, which sold out in two days. Then Gibson offered a second version of the guitar in April, in a different color, which sold out as well. "If you can, get one get one, because it'll be worth a lot of money," he says. "That one was the first-run limited edition, so it was super cool."
Taking a page from the auto world, this summer Gibson introduces a 2008 Les Paul, its classic guitar. "For the very first time, we are designating guitar years, exactly like the car business," Juszkiewicz says, with unbridled enthusiasm. "Gibson has consistently been improving the guitar over time, but you never knew how old a guitar was."
People often wouldn't know what improvements were made on the Les Paul from year to year, and every new model year will have its own specs. This year's model has locking tuners, special pickups, strap locks, and a whole new electric system.
Juszkiewicz and Smokey Robinson at Songwriters Hall of Fame
Juszkiewicz references the Les Paul in car peak. "In days of old, people would handwire the chassis inside the guitar," he says. "While it looks really quaint, a lot of things in the guitar would vary depending on how the person put it together." They've added better technology to make the electrical characteristics "absolutely, exactly right."
Because there will be a limited quantity due to releasing in the middle of the year, Juszkiewicz predicts the 2008 Les Pauls will be valuable. "The 2008 model is going to be really smokin' and utilize a lot of new technology to make it a much superior instrument, so it's kind of a historical moment for Gibson."