As detailed in last month’s Latest Buzz section, I had the privilege of attending Experience PRS for the first time this year, granting me the opportunity to witness firsthand the passion and enthusiasm of the PRS Guitars team, the company’s partners and the instruments’ loyal fans. Passion and enthusiasm also characterize this conversation with Jack Higginbotham, company President, whom I got to chat with while in Maryland and who, now, presents a broad view of his career, PRS Guitars’ growth and development, and the company’s unyielding dedication to quality craftsmanship and continuous innovation. Along the way, he reveals some of the reasons why he’s spent nearly 30 years at PRS…and loved it every step of the way.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s start by discussing your background. Touch on the highlights of your story as it pertains to the music products industry and music in general. Tell us about the career path you’ve traveled, bringing us right up to the present day.
Jack Higginbotham: I have been playing music for as long as I can remember. My sister had a piano, and my musical ability was recognized when I started playing along with jingles from commercials in the 1960s. I got an acoustic guitar from the Sears employee store for Christmas when I was six. It was set up terribly and was a painful experience, until that was corrected with my first guitar lesson at the age of eight. But my earliest memory is sitting on my grandfather’s lap while he taught me to play his zither in West Virginia.
Fast-forwarding, I played music all through high school. I went to college with the intent of becoming a mechanical engineer, but dropped out in 1981 to play music full time, primarily as a keyboardist. It was at that time I moved to Annapolis MD, where I met Paul Reed Smith. In 1985, I realized there was not a huge record deal at the end of my rainbow, so I shifted gears and started building guitars at the PRS shop on Virginia Ave. in Annapolis.
From ’85 on, I could write a book. I’ve done many of the jobs in the factory and managed nearly all of the departments at some point. My love is woodworking, but, through the years, I have been Builder, Department Manager, Project Manager, Production Manager, Purchasing/Sourcing Manager, Sales Manager, Vice President and President. I am very fortunate to have a ground-up point of view of our business, and I try to access that portal constantly.
I suppose it is rare for someone to stay in the same company for almost 30 years, so my career path is strangely linear. I still play music when I have the chance, and a love of music is foundational in my house.
The Retailer: What are your day-to-day duties and responsibilities as President of PRS Guitars? What’s the best part of coming to work each day?
Higginbotham: I handle the “day-to-day” responsibilities of each department, with the exception of Artist Relations, which Paul runs. My main areas of focus these days are global business strategy, sales and marketing. As cliché as it sounds, the best part of coming to work is being around excellent people with a unified passion.
The Retailer: Let’s talk about PRS Guitars in broad strokes. Give us a 10,000-foot overview of the company, discussing its history and some of the key characteristics and qualities that it embodies. Share details about its growth and development over time.
Higginbotham: The most appropriate word for PRS is “uncompromised.” We push the limits and live on the edge of those limits. The result is an instrument that we want to own and play. Being a first-generation company with a Founder who is a musician and a passionate visionary puts us in a unique position among our peers.
Our growth has come naturally with time and diversification. We have been in business for 28 years, but our amplifier and acoustic programs are less than five years old. These new product lines are like having two new mini-businesses, and represent great opportunities for the future. Our new S2 Series represents another significant opportunity to reach a new artist, a new customer and a new price point. All that, but with nothing short of what the world has come to expect from a PRS product.
The company is, and always has been, made up of people who share Paul’s vision of creating good tools for musicians to use. Although the scope has changed over the years, the essence of the business is the same as in 1985.
The Retailer: When you look at PRS Guitars as it currently exists, what would you say you are the proudest of?