Today’s story starts in a Maryland suburb with a kid graduating from high school and started at a local college. There he started working on building his first guitar from scratch, and realized this is what he wanted to do with his life, and dropped out of college. He made a second guitar, and took it with him to a local concert venue where he met with Ted Nugent’s rhythm guitar player, who surprisingly bought it after playing it. He was commissioned by Ted to build a solid version of his emblematic Birdland guitar, and that allowed him to start an attic workshop in Annapolis. He continued to build guitars and take them to shows where Peter Frampton and Al DiMeola would buy them, and eventually, he set his sights on Carlos. If he could land him, he knew that it would set him up for success… but how?
Smith missed the window as Carlos started endorsing Yamaha JUST as he started his work, but he continued to stalk him. Eventually landing an order, and then another, a third, by the fourth he realized that the first three were not “accidents of God” but showed real guitar-making genius. He signed on as the lead endorser for what you know now as Paul Reed Smith – PRS to guitar players. From the early 80’s to this day, Santana is always seen with his trademark PRS’s on stage, and there are now multiple artists who embrace them and have “signature” models. What is most fascinating is that Paul, like Bill Collins and his amazing acoustic instruments, is not a player. He simply loves the design, building, and finishing of beautiful instruments. And yes, I own one, but actually, my son bought the first one – a lower cost one built in Korea but still bearing the Santana name. Carlos wanted to put them in the hands of young musicians like he was starting out.
Why did PRS decide to take on building guitars? There were already 2 large incumbents – Fender and Gibson, and both had struggled to make it through the 60’s and 70s, one being bought by CBS which is a badge of disdain on that era of gear. Large corporation’s ability to Change and adapt was what I was experiencing inside of IBM, and I suspect that Paul knew that if he wanted to be the best, he would have to strike out on his own. My food friend Ed in Boca was about to learn the same lesson. As more and more “White Plains” IBMers came to the PC world in Boca Raton, the bureaucracy was tightening it’s grip around the small team of 20 that actually got the PC off the ground in 1981. On this day, he had finally had it, and the story is a little murky in what order this happened in, but he found himself outside of the building of 500 programmers working on OS/2 – minus his badge, and his job.
No worries… remember that number 5? He knew the right 5, and called him from a new-fangled contraption in his BMW – a car phone. All wholeheartedly said “Yes”, and walked out with him. They went on to develop what you probably know as Citrix – a multi-user system that is STILL in use after 30 years, and also was the heart of the Microsoft/NT Server OS. Being a bright guy, he also realized he was a technologist at heart, so after getting the start-up and running, he quickly recruited a real CEO/Businessperson. He actually called me to talk about joining him, and I was honored for that recognition, but other than visiting each of their early offices in Coral Gables, and the occasional visit at trade shows, I watched him craft a business that he saw and tried to convince IBM was real and built into a multi-billion business. Sadly Ed died in 2013, but this is a great tribute worth your time where you get to hear his gentle wise voice.
My Dad had a similar story of a super bright salesman in his Dallas branch office of IBM. He would make his sales targets by the end of January – every year, and eventually crafted a business plan for a new business that he took to the board… who turned it down. No matter – he took… wait for it… 5 guys and started the largest user of IBM technology on the global as they started a “time-sharing service” called EDS… a person you know as Ross Perot. In the “last” big downturn, look at the list of businesses that started then: Uber, AirBnB, WhatsApp, Venmo, Instagram, Pinterest., Slack, Square. You get the picture: Change breeds opportunity, and wonder. What do you see that needs to Change, and how do you give energy to that away from other things? Ed had three things he focused on: Talent, Trust, and Faith. As you listen to the first album recorded with a PRS, imagine yourself in a new way – Winning.