It’s not often you see the Chairman and CEO of a major company looking like a deer in the headlights. If seeing that is your thing, the news conference that Gibson Guitar Company CEO Henry Juszkiewicz gave outside Gibson headquarters in Nashville is a must see. Juszkiewicz was responding to a raid by the Fish and Wildlife Service SWAT team on Gibson factories in Nashville and Memphis last week.
He can’t be too surprised, you’d think. The same SWAT team raided his factories two years ago, so it’s not like he was unaware Fish and Wildlife had a SWAT team. And when you have a SWAT team, you will use it.
In the 1980’s Gibson took a beating in the guitar market. New, hot sounding guitars were eating into the market. Their old school rival, Fender, had began making guitars in Japan, but Gibson held firm: “Gibson USA,” was their tag line, Only Gibson is Good Enough, the slogan. The message was clear: Our USA made guitars are better. But Fender guitars where half price to Gibson, and their Squire models, made in Japan, where a quarter the price. Musicians declared their loyalty: “Fender sold out, Gibson held strong. I will never buy another Fender again,” more than one walked into the store I worked at and said. But when they needed a back-up axe, and a brand new Squire telecaster could be had for $199, but a Gibson, any Gibson, was going for $600 and more, they bought Fender again.
But Gibson stayed: they were an American company making American products, in America. Put another way, get on the floor, put your hands on your head and thanks for doing business with us.
A number of years ago I built a guitar, a classical. I got all the wood from a local place that is well known for it’s lutherie woods, including the Indian Rosewood fingerboard and bridge blank. The blanks, like the illegal Gibson blanks, where partially finished, but required planing and shaping before they got put on the guitar. At the time it occurred to me making guitars might be a nice, eventually semi-profitable hobby. I kept up with a few luther chat rooms, and quickly ran across these discussions about paperwork for your wood. The guys who were making real money doing this could source their wood often back to the tree.
Making guitars, I thought, I could do. Keeping ahead of that kind of paperwork, not so much. No big deal, it was a flight of fancy more than solid idea. But watching Henry Juszkiewicz explain that they had all the paperwork, explain the wood left India with this certification, that stamp and this signature, the wood cleared customs in the USA, and Fish and Wildlife shut down production and took the wood needed for them to build guitars anyway, I knew nobody could keep ahead of the paperwork.
If your a CEO of a business, any business right now, what did you think when you watched Henry Juszkiewicz staring into the headlights? Perhaps, like me, you thought I’m glad I don’t do business with them. Or perhaps you run an American business, and you know that people like Rush Limbaugh have been saying for years that business is under attack in this country. And you see the SWAT team of the Fish and Wildlife Service running roughshod over a business known for having stayed in America when his best interests said to move on. Wouldn’t you think, maybe it’s time to move on?
If you ever wonder why your TVs are made in Korea, when they used to be made in the US, your car is from Japan, your iPod from Singapore and ask yourself, does the Korean Fish and Wildlife Service have a SWAT team, and if so, how much paperwork do you have to do to keep them on the other side of the door. Then ask yourself, where would you build a TV?
Where, in the future, will Gibson build guitars?
Brian Gardiner can be found At Home In Hespeler