Breakfast of Champions (The 2019 NAMM Show): JC Curleigh
In late 2018, James “JC” Curleigh took the reins as the head of Gibson after holding leadership positions with Levi Strauss & Co., Salomon and Keen. During “Breakfast of Champions” at The 2019 NAMM Show, Curleigh discussed the importance of originality in branding and thinking like a startup with NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond.
Here are highlights from the interview. (Watch the video to see the full segment.)
On becoming president and CEO of Gibson:
People asked me earlier, ‘JC, what’s the most surprising thing so far?’ And I think people were looking for the dark-side answer. And I said, ‘The overwhelming support from this entire industry to say, Gibson, bring it back. Get it back to where it belongs.’ So in some ways, it’s just this amazing journey in three months of support from artists and my own team and the industry. And it’s super-exciting.
On thinking like a startup:
Startups are by definition future-focused. And by definition, if you make a big, wrong move at a startup, you might not survive. So I’ve been trying to take this philosophical approach at Gibson with, ‘Let’s be the 125-year-old startup.’ Leveraging our iconic, earned status over time but not taking the future for granted and maybe focusing a little sharper as a startup would. And so far, we’re putting the band back together.
On market creation and development:
When we got to Levi’s, everyone was like, ‘How can we sell more jeans?’ I’m like, ‘Why don’t we look in people’s closets—not literally—and we realized that jeans were really about 5 or 6 percent of what was in your closet in terms of purchases. So we were the worldwide leader in 5 percent of your closet. And then we said, ‘Let’s pivot that to look at share of closet.’ And after that, we started looking at all these other products, whether it was jackets, T-shirts and belts. And today, Levi’s is truly succeeding in share of closet.
So coming to Gibson, I’m looking at this and going, ‘Man, we’ve been synonymous with creating and shaping and delivering sound through every generation for the last 125 years, and every genre and every gender.’ So that’s kind of our quest: How can we continue to shape music? So for me, it’s about share of sound.