Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has promoted Senior VP Richard McDonald to Executive Vice President--but industry insiders say he may not have been moved up enough.
When iconic American brand Fender, by far the most popular guitar maker on the planet and an inescapable part of pop culture for 75 years, let go of its former CEO Larry Thomas, rumors were that Fender brand manager Richard McDonald should take his place, and it would have been the best choice Fender could make. GuitarCollector.com has dealt with McDonald for years and knows he's the best person for the job, so his elevation to Executive Vice President of Fender is both good news and bad for the company.
Move to Executive Vice President: Is That Enough?
Former CEO Larry Thomas left a mixed legacy at Fender. He clearly loved guitars, but perhaps not the guitar business itself. An undeniably enthusiastic guitar collector (As Fender CEO he was once featured on a magazine cover with one his favorite instruments--a classic guitar by Martin, a Fender's archrival in the acoustic guitar space), he didn't seem to have the ability to look at market realities and deal with them methodically. The Execution part of CEO was not a strength of Thomas, who should have been far more active on the global stage. Fender is a company with many moving parts, and the only ones Thomas seemed to enjoy were guitars themselves.
Many industry insiders assumed that should Thomas step down he would be replaced by McDonald, a move that could be described as obvious and perhaps even essential. McDonald was formerly the Senior Vice President and was responsible for Fender electric guitars, amplifiers, and pro audio. As EVP McDonald will continue that work and will consolidate under him the acoustic guitar and accessories business.
One can be sure McDonald will never been seen on the cover of a magazine playing his rival's instruments.
This is good for Fender guitars, but Fender the company also oversees many other brands. Over the decades they have rolled up many other companies: Guild, Jackson, Gretsch, Eddie Van Halen's EVH, and many others. Can the company afford not to put someone as experienced in an EVP position when they need him in one of the jobs that starts with a C and ends with an O?
McDonald An American Success Story; Fender a Piece of American History
McDonald, quite frequently the face of Fender at global business conferences, company videos, and ubiquitous NAMM presence, is a classic American success story at a class American company.
* He's a legitimately good guitar player and toured for years as a youth with popular regional band Morningstar.
* He started 20+ years ago in the parts department, a sleepy post not considered to be a launching point for executive talent
* In the parts department he instantly realized that instead of passively fulfilling orders as they came in he could use it as a data collection hotpoint and company outreach, giving Fender street-level vantage point no guitar manufacturer had ever used full to its advantage
* McDonald expanded the company into Chinese production years before anywhere else, with the result being superb instruments that far exceed the quality of guitars made almost anywhere else, and a decade's head start on the turbulent and sometimes treacherous Eastern front
* As the company grew and McDonald's stature in it, he deftly kept touch with everyone from dealers, to Fender Artists, to charity outreach, to both friends and foes in the music industry. At the same time he furthered his business education constantly, getting an MBA and teaching business classes at leading educational institutions
"He's by far the best man for the job, and Fender has a deep, deep bench," says GuitarCollector.com editor Edward Banks. "They have a lot of great guys, but Richard has both the common touch and an astonishing grasp of the business as a whole.
"He knows the company, loves it, and he's a damn good guitarist, too. Maybe just as important: everyone in the industry knows Richard McDonald and they all love him. It's pretty hard to go a lifetime without making enemies in the very competitive musical instrument industry. He seems to have done just that."
Founded in a garage, Fender boasts the creation of the electric bass and not one but two legendary guitar brands: the Stratocaster, played by luminaries from Buddy Holly to the Beatles' George to Chili Pepper John Frusciante, and the Telecaster, from Muddy Waters to Bob Dylan to Brad Paisley. It is one of America's iconic brands, and one beloved of guitar collectors worldwide.