How to take on an ailing company--and make it hum

When three biz-school-trained entrepreneurs rescued Nashville's Gibson Guitar Corp., they created jobs — and saved a musical tradition

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A decade ago, Gibson—the legendary American instrument maker —was about to close its doors forever. The company, founded by mandolin maker and master craftsman Orville Gibson in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the 1890s, had fallen on very hard times indeed. Squeezed by an influx of inexpensive Japanese guitars and taken over by a foreign conglomerate that turned out shoddy instruments, Gibson's glory days were gone.

Enter three friends who were trained at the Harvard Business School and were all amateur rock-band musicians. Armed with a $5 million loan and a brilliant game plan, 32-year-old Henry Juszkiewicz (today Gibson's CEO) and his two associates returned the company to its tradition of excellence and profitability. They also saved a great musical tradition from extinction. Gibson has made instruments for stellar musicians past and present the Flying V for Jimi Hendrix, archtop guitars played by early jazzmen, and a stylish Les Paul model played by rock legends from Keith Richards to Paul McCartney.

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