In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.



Founder and vice president, Yamaha Entertainment Group


Background:  

Founded by Emmy Award-winning Chris Gero in 1993, Yamaha Entertainment Group has a hand in virtually every aspect of the music business. The company acts as a record label, album producer and manager of artist relations. Yamaha’s stars include Elton John, Josh Groban, Alicia Keys and Paul McCartney.

The Mistake:

In all honesty, I make mistakes every single day. I’m very fond of mistakes as long as they are recoverable. I’m a person who makes a lot of instinctual decisions, and many of them are mistakes, but as long as you act very quickly on that and take it as a positive, you end with the ability to get up and take a swing again.

A great component of what we do is about our brand being seen. When you see an instrument on TV and it says “Yamaha” on the side of it, that’s the payoff for us. So when big, massive events come along such as the Super Bowl, we get our label in front of millions of people.

We knew in advance that Paul McCartney was going to perform at the 2004 Super Bowl and we’ve obviously had a longstanding partnership with him. They needed a very special, modified piano for a 15-minute performance with the finale being “Hey Jude.” We were told by all directors that this would be a very poignant moment for us because the cameras typically block the artist and the logo together.

I had relatively new employees working for me including an individual who had only been working here a couple of months. We modified the piano and everything was in place, but on the Thursday before the Super Bowl, I got a call from the production company saying that there were no logos on the piano. I turned to this individual who was responsible for making sure that these things got done and told her it was imperative that those logos go out the door today so they would be on the piano on Sunday.

Everyone in Yamaha was watching for our logo during the Super Bowl. We knew this was going to be one of the biggest brand looks that we would ever have. I turned on the TV to catch the halftime show and lo and behold McCartney jumps over to the piano, but there’s no logos on either side of the piano.

Immediately after the Super Bowl my boss called me and asked what happened. At that moment, I wasn’t really sure what had gone wrong. But what went wrong had played out in front of the world. Although most viewers didn’t know any better, anyone associated with Yamaha knew, and immediately I was getting phone calls asking me to fire the individual. When I asked her what happened, she just said quite frankly she had forgotten about it.

The mistake wasn’t really that she forgot about it. My mistake was my reaction to her. I got so upset and started losing my mind.

What went wrong had played out in front of the world.

The Lesson:

I realized that although it was really horrible for us, it wasn’t the end of the world. As a result of that, it really kind of changed my own internal trajectory. My bosses were asking me to let her go, but I chose not to. She actually made an honest mistake, and she had just forgotten about it. It was nothing malicious, but because I’m such a perfectionist, I originally took it as malicious.

The lesson that I took from it was to always check and recheck and recheck, but do so very kindly. If you walk down the stairs of my office right now, the very last picture you see is this great big picture of Paul McCartney playing that piano with no logo. Every other picture in my office has an artist with our logo.

I learned to be true to the people around me and not treating bad situations as if it’s the last day of my life. It’s a very high-pressure business that we work in, and because I’m a perfectionist I have to constantly remodify my expectations of other people.

Be great for yourself, not for the company you work for. The company you work for will benefit from you being great for yourself. All the things that we do, we have to do together. Had I been a lot more diligent in that moment and much more forgiving in it, it would have made me a better person. That person went on to be a very successful employee for many years.

Yamaha Entertainment Group is on Twitter at @yamahaentertain.

Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media.

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