Great People Along The Way by Roy Elkins
Bruce Crockett, Founder and CEO of ENSONIQ Corporation
ENSONIQ (Maker of keyboards, synthesizers and effects processors)
I first met Bruce when I flew up from Memphis to interview at ENSONIQ headquarters in Malvern, PA. Bruce is a tall guy, thin, unassuming, relatively quiet, but when he walks into the room, you know who the boss is. His presence is large. When interviewing at ENSONIQ, I was introduced to Bruce in his office at the old building in Malvern, PA and needless to say, I was petrified. Here I am, sitting in the room with the man who founded ENSONIQ, the company I idolized…..Fast forward>>
I was offered a job to start the ENSONIQ School and train the dealers on how to use and sell our products. I arrived at ENSONIQ, excited and scared shitless at the same time. Like so many of the dealers and users, I worshipped the company and everyone in it. The company had just moved in the new building and my office, which was the training room, had no carpet, wall paper, desk or anything. It was empty. The first few training sessions were done on card tables, no carpeting, etc….but I loved it and couldn’t believe what I was doing for a living.
I was in the training room on a Saturday afternoon rearranging the set-up preparing for the first school. At the front of the room was one of those old Ultimate Support stands and I needed to shave it down a little to make it work. Bruce walks in and asked how I was doing. I explained my dilemma with the stand. He returns a few minutes later with a hack saw and cuts the stand to the height I needed. Like Bruce, I came from humble beginnings and thought CEOs weren’t supposed to do “manual labor.” Words can’t express how that simple act influenced me. A few days later, I went into the mens room and there is Bruce with his tie thrown over his shoulder trying to fix something under the sink. I remember thinking, I can work for this guy. His work ethic influenced us and like so many of my colleagues at ENSONIQ, I could tell Bruce stories for hours without repeating one.
Comdex & Willie Nelson
One of my favorite stories is when we arranged, sponsored and promoted a Willie Nelson Show at the Thomas Mack Arena in Las Vegas during the Comdex convention. My responsibility was to “make it happen.” Johnny Neel who was with the Allman Brothers at the time, opened the show and brought the house down. Then Bruce introduced Willie to the crowd of about 30,000 and the show was amazing. Hit after hit after hit. Although Bruce introduced Willie, he didn’t get a chance to meet him before the show. Unbeknownst to Bruce, I spoke to the tour manager and arranged a meeting afterwards in one of the hospitality rooms. The manager came to get us and said, “we’re going to go to the bus instead and you’ll meet him there.” My immediate thought was, “Oh shit, I am taking my boss to Willie’s tour bus.” I was well aware of the scenario that was probably unfolding on Willie’s bus as we walked out into the parking lot. The bus door opens and a tornado of smoke emerges similar to the storm at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz. We walk up the steps and take a quick left and needless to say, the smoke was so thick we couldn’t see anyone. (I’m sure I’m exaggerating a little here, but it does make the point.) We were introduced to Willie and he was as gracious as a person could be. I had a brief conversation with his sister, who has been his piano player forever and she was just as kind. Willie offered us a seat, but we declined. When we got off the bus, I don’t think either one of us knew what to say, but we did have a good laugh as we were walking back to the arena.
The LA Trip
We had an awesome product that wasn’t doing so well in the marketplace and Bruce wanted to do something special for the sales reps right away. I made a few calls and a plan was in place that would unfold in less than two weeks. The idea was to fly our reps, introduce them to the stars who were using our products and get them fired up. Hopefully they would feel better about the product which ultimately would generate more sales.
On the schedule to have breakfast, lunch and/or dinner with our reps was David Arkenstone, Davis Was, Edgar Winter, Sherman Hemsley, Will Smith, Roy Firestone, Pat O’Brien, Keith Emerson, Joe Walsh, Joe Vitale and a few others. We also went to the Tonight Show where we met Jay Leno, Kevin Eubanks, John Travolta and Danny Wilde of the Rembrandts. We stopped by the legendary O’Henry Studios and then to the set of Baywatch. One of my personal highlights was seeing Bruce having a beer with Sherman Hemsley at his house overlooking the valley in LA.
This was all put together in less than two weeks and while driving from one meeting to the next I was wondering whether or not the next guest was going to show up. Bruce, along with our VP of Sales Dan Garrett, were very supportive and appreciative of the stress it took to pull this off. To this day I am still amazed that it went off without a hitch. After we got back, Bruce came into my office, said some nice words and I felt like I earned my stripes. He never bullshitted anyone, so when he said something nice, you knew he meant it.
A few years into Broadjam, I hit a snag and called Bruce for advice. Thinking I was going to have a long phone conversation or two, he surprised me and asked what I was doing in the next few days. He got on a plane, flew out to Madison from Washington State and spent a couple days straightening me out. I was blown away and will never forget it. I don’t think he ever stopped caring about his employees, even long after they left his employ.
Over the years, I’ve learned more from him than any one person in business. Not because he was consciously teaching any of us, he was just being him. I have read numerous books about leadership and he is what they are talking about. There are times I find myself repeating his words to my employees. After he left ENSONIQ, the spirit of the company imploded and many of us left within a few months. He was ENSONIQ to all of us. It was sold within a year or so and now it’s just a memory. If he was still there, I would be too.
Update: I wrote the above last summer and had a chance to share it with him shortly after. I was driving home from a presentation when I found out. A tear rolled down my cheek and at the same time I smiled, as I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to work for him. His legacy will live on for a long time. R.I.P. Bruce.