How a Six-String CEO Revived an Iconic Brand

As a guitar player for over 50 years, Andy Mooney leapt at the chance to take the helm of the legendary Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. Setting the standard of guitar innovation with breakthrough models like the Stratocaster, the Telecaster, and the Mustang, the company had fallen on harder times. Silo thinking, a flat industry, and unmet Board expectations were about the only music playing when Andy took over in 2015.

Realizing that the company needed a refresh, Mooney discovered new ideas from unlikely sources. Instead of looking within the music industry for inspiration, Andy borrowed from his 20-year experience at Nike. There he helped launch Nike ID, an online offering that allowed consumers to custom-build their own kicks. The site allows customers to handcraft every aspect of their shoes, from colors to laces to soles. These one-of-a-kind shoes were a huge hit, giving customers the exact sneakers of their dreams.

An early initiative upon Andy’s arrival at Fender was to launch the Fender Mod Shop, the guitar equivalent to Nike ID. Guitar players could now custom-build their axes exactly how they wanted them – selecting from dozens of variables – and then receive their masterpiece within 30 days. This borrowed idea was a huge hit, helping the company get back its groove and reestablish a rhythm of relevance.

Mooney then borrowed another idea to further his company’s jam. “I realized that 45% of guitars are sold to new players each year, and that 90% of those abandon the instrument within the 12 months,” he told me in a recent interview. “Also, the lesson category is twice the size of the new instrument category.” These insights paved the way for Fender Digital, an online collection of lessons to help emerging artists learn to play and remain guitar players for the duration. Borrowing the concept from on-demand video services such as Netflix, the site took off, helping to grow the entire market by 8%.

As you seek to forge your own reinvention, Mooney’s approach is powerful. Instead of being insulated within the four walls of your industry, look outside for inspiration and see what concepts can be borrowed. Your breakthrough idea may come from another industry, the arts, or even nature. Seek unique ideas and patterns outside your normal vantage point, and then inject them into your work to drive stunning results.

Speaking with Andy, I realize that Fender’s best days are yet to come. By having the courage to reinvent and the insight to borrow proven ideas from outside his field, this renegade CEO is leading the turnaround of an iconic brand. If you’re looking for creative inspiration, follow his lead to create your own sweet sounds of success.

And that will be music to my ears.