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Real estate and music

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By Thomas Gibson, former Holladay associate

Having lived in Nashville, a city known as “Music City”, I am always amazed at how music becomes such a common denominator in connecting with people. Approximately eight years ago, we rehabilitated an older industrial building for reuse as the custom plant for Gibson Guitar. This is now the facility where Gibson manufactures a handcrafted line of instruments, including the famed Les Paul guitar.

In 2007, while I was attending a graduate school program at Harvard, one of the guest professors was a man by the name of Andrew Baum who is Professor of Real Estate Investment at the University of Cambridge in the UK. During the course of a dinner conversation, I mentioned the redevelopment of the Gibson Plant.  Interestingly enough, Andrew moonlights as a mandolin player and has a deep passion for that instrument and music. When I returned to Harvard to judge business plans for a subsequent class, I again had a chance to visit with Andrew. At that time, Andrew mentioned that he would be doing a guest lecture series at the University of North Carolina’s Graduate School of Business. He asked if I would be kind enough to arrange a tour of the Gibson Plant and their mandolin manufacturing line. I informed him that I would be delighted to accommodate his request and the tour was arranged for early December.

Andrew was joined on the trip by David Hartzell, who holds the Real Estate Chair at the University Of North Carolina Graduate School Of Business. David is the co-author of Andrew’s newest book, Global Property Investment, Strategy, Structures and Decisions. During their visit to Nashville, they were kind enough to provide me with an autographed copy of the book. I must admit, it is the first autographed textbook that I have ever received. My friends would contend it’s the only book I own without pictures.

The tour was extensive and got into a number of intricacies of the manufacturing processes for both guitars and mandolins. Much of the manufacturing equipment is vintage equipment and some of the dyes for the acoustical instruments date back to the original manufacturing plant that was owned and run by the founder of the company, Orville Gibson. Some of the acoustical instruments take approximately a month to manufacture due to the quality and care that is given to each stage of the manufacturing process.

The gentleman who ran the mandolin line, Mr. Dave Harvey is a world class mandolin player and a true historian of the mandolin and Gibson’s history with this instrument. He told us that Orville Gibson, the founder of Gibson was granted a patent for a new design in arch-top instruments in 1898. His early instruments were highly experimental and ornate. In those days, there were actually mandolin orchestras that played throughout the country. Dave is somebody who has a true passion for his job, his craft and his instrument.  That passion was transmitted in every word as we intently listened to the history and the detailed manufacturing process of this handcrafted instrument.

It was a rather extraordinary day for all parties. After the tour, I had an opportunity to chat with Dave Hertzell at length about the MBA real estate program at North Carolina and some of the very innovative things that he had initiated. The North Carolina program has a student run real estate investment fund which is a fine example of learning by doing. This is an example of how the curriculum can enrich the educational experience and provide students with practical skills. At the end of the day, it was an extraordinary day of learning about both the manufacture of musical instruments and real estate. This is an example of the cliché that music truly does make the world go round.

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