Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar Corp., is sponsoring a VIP bus for rock concert attendees at the GOP National Convention in Tampa next month. Was it a good decision? Last August, after federal agents raided his guitar factories in Nashville and Memphis, Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz argued, "Gibson is innocent and will fight to protect its rights. Gibson has complied with foreign laws and believes it is innocent of any wrong doing. We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence."
Almost a year later, Juszkiewicz may have a chance to make his case, as he appears in another venue with a receptive audience. Gibson is co-sponsoring a VIP bus (along with the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation), at a musical event during the August Republican National Convention in Tampa.
But that presents a business challenge for Juszkiewicz and for Gibson. A federal investigation into Gibson's wood importation practices has languished, while he and other wood industry parties seek a revision in the LACEY Act - which can end up enforcing foreign statutes on U.S. soil, even when the foreign governments don't care to do so. (The intent is to protect endangered wood species from wholesale cutting and shipping from their native lands.)
To rectify the situation, an effort is before Congress to revise the LACEY act, though it has stalled for the moment. Some high-profile musicians, and even some of Gibson's colleagues, have already lined up against loosening the protective restrictions in the LACEY Act, including Sting and the Rolling Stones. "I would never buy a Gibson," says Sting. Taylor Guitar set up its own ebony sawmill in the Cameroons, in part to avoid such issues.
I'm sympathetic to Juszkiewicz. The federal government seems to be overreaching in its enforcement of foreign lumber protections, even without requests to do so. And Gibson has tested alternative woods, such as maple wood that has been torrefied to stability.
The question is: will Gibson come away from this venture with its reputation intact? Is it worth the risk of alienating the left-wing musician clientele, of which there are many?