The corporate world and the rock world are not as dissimilar as one might think. Being a CEO, or even managing a staff of employees, can be a lot like leading a band. The parallels between the two are indisputable. Charting a direction, team building, hiring and firing, and communicating ideas are all equally applicable job-related concepts whether you’re the head of a company, a department, or a band. Stu Kemper of Dublin, Ohio, and Ozzy Nelson of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, are both bandleaders and bosses at their companies. And while neither is quitting their day job to go on tour any time soon, both share a passion for music that helps inform their relationships and keeps their business affairs running smoothly.
Forty-seven-year old Stu Kemper is currently Senior VP of Business Development for CPG International, a manufacturer of building materials for residential and commercial markets designed to replace wood, metal, and other traditional materials in a variety of applications. Up until late 2013, he was CEO of TimberTech (which was acquired by CPG), a company that specializes in high quality composite decking solutions. Kemper also plays guitar and sings in Good Wood, a band comprised almost entirely of CPG employees.
Kemper started playing guitar at about age 11. “I also play trombone and started that about the same time,” he says. “I was always drawn to music. I loved rock music the most and wanted to play in a band. That’s what got me interested in guitar.”
Kemper also raps in Good Wood and has a deep appreciation for that genre. “There was an ongoing argument in my band in high school whether rap was real music,” he recalls. “It was just emerging in the mainstream in the early ’80s. One view was that it was just talking over other people’s music. The other view was that it was a legit form on its own. I have to admit I was conflicted. Run-DMC finally put me over the edge and I became a rap fan. I didn’t rap in high school but I listened a lot.”
Kemper first started rapping when doing karaoke. “It was mostly for the shock value,” he admits. “I was a business guy rapping, which was very unusual. People were stunned that I knew the words but I had been listening to that stuff in my car for years.”
Kemper received a Bachelors of Business from Ohio University in 1989 and earned his MBA from Capital University in 1996. “As for music, I learned guitar in a classical way with sheet music,” he recalls. “I had a great teacher who pushed me on learning theory, most of which I’ve forgotten by now.”
Kemper learned trombone through school programs and a lot of private lessons. “One of my private instructors was the second chair of the Akron Symphony.” Kemper played trombone in high school in the concert, jazz, and marching bands. In college he played trombone in the Ohio University marching band (Marching 110), jazz band, and concert band. “I was a better trombone player than guitar player,” he admits. “I kept that going by playing occasionally at church, right up until my twin boys were born in 2000.”
As for the parallels between being a business leader and a bandleader, Kemper believes that music is a great background for business. “Music is about patterns,” he attests.“In music you learn chords, verses, bridges, choruses, etc. After a while you get better at pattern recognition. Musicis also great for
learning to work with a team—you have to learn to work with others effectively to make music. Everyone has a part to play and teamwork is paramount.” He says that music also helps people learn to manage conflict. “Just dealing with the cat and dog nature of guitar players and drummers is an education by itself,” he adds with a laugh. “It turns out they can be friends.”
Good Wood formed in the summer of 2011 and was recently selected as a regional finalist in Fortune’s Battle of the Corporate Bands. In addition to Kemper on guitar and vocals, Good Wood consists of CPG employees Greg Weyman (advertising) on guitar/vocals, Bob Opst (quality manager) on drums, Chuck Chura (product manager) on guitar/vocals, and Toby Bostwick (vocals/drums).
“You might note that there is no bass player,” he points out. “So, the three guitar players agreed to switch off on bass and do our best. We weren’t taking it extremely seriously as we figured it would be a one and done sort of a thing.”
They played a company sales meeting that fall after only six practices. “I think we had a 22-song set,” he remembers. “We practiced in two adjacent rooms at the plant. We couldn’t actually see the drummer.” For the gig they hired a professional sound company, which Kemper admits made a huge difference.
“People danced and had fun and we realized we weren’t too bad and that we could get even better with a bit more work.” Since that gig on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, in 2011 they’ve played St. Petersburg, Florida; Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel; Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey; The Country Club at Muirfield Village in Dublin; the TimberTech company picnic; and an industry event for one of their good customers.
Kemper does admit that juggling his musical pursuits with the responsibilities of a senior management position is a huge challenge. “Until we got Good Wood going a couple of years ago I hadn’t played guitar in over 10 years,” he says. “It was tough juggling kids, travel, and other responsibilities. Plus, I like to play with other people. I don’t like playing on my own as much. So, putting together Good Wood rekindled that flame. I immediately went out and got a bunch of gear and started practicing.”
Ozzy Nelson is the 48-year old CEO of Mayday Brewery. He’s a fun guy with a great sense of humor who also fronts a band called the Yeasty Boys, named thus because Mayday’s specialty is yeast beers (also a reference to the Beastie Boys). Nelson admits he’s not an instrumentalist. “I would be insulting musicians if I called myself one,” he says with a laugh. “I get up, have a good time, and try to entertain. I get to be in the band because I own the company.” In addition to Nelson, the band is made up of two brewers—one on bass and one on drums—and one of his investors on guitar. “We started playing in the summer of 2013, just messing around, kind of as a joke,” he says. “I’m pretty sure we are still a joke.”
Nelson opened the brewery on his birthday, November 30, 2012. “It took three years of work to put the pieces together and get it open,” he says. “Mayday occupies 12,000 feet of a manufacturing plant built in 1923 only a half-mile from the Murfreesboro town square. We sell about 1,200 gallons of beer per week.” They started hosting (mostly original) live music in the brewery in the spring of 2013 and it has really taken off. Now they have three music venues: the tasting room for acoustic sets, The Brewhouse stage in the brewery for full bands in the winter months, and The Dock (Mayday’s loading dock), overlooking a large deck off the bar and tasting room, where bands play in the summer.
Because Mayday is a relatively new start-up, Nelson also maintains his day job working for a “fortune 100” healthcare company in the internal audit department. “I manage the brewery from my desk and I am always there after work and on weekends,” he says.
“So the band is just for fun, nothing serious,” he says. As for managing staff versus band members he notes that because they are essentially one and the same, “it’s all about managing the same personalities” for him.
The Yeasty Boys don’t play anywhere but the brewery. “No one can tell us we can’t play there,” says Nelson. They play a couple of songs in between, or after, other “real” artists have played a big event at the brewery. “We are a Black Sabbath tribute band,” he clarifies. “Songs from the first three albums of Black Sabbath are all we play.”
As a matter of fact, Nelson likes Black Sabbath so much he named the brewery’s first four fermenters (each holds about 1,000 gallons of beer) Ozzy, Bill, Tony, and Geezer after the original members of the iconic metal band. “We got some new tanks in last summer, each hold about 3,000 gallons of beer, and we named them after great guitarists who died too young: Randy Rhoads, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix.”
Nelson maintains a full set of instruments set up in the middle of the brewery 24/7. “That’s where we rehearse,” says Nelson. “We usually do it on Thursday evenings when our tasting room isn’t very busy. I’m sure people love hearing ‘Paranoid’ eight times while they are having a beer after work.”