Meet the Women Driving PRS Guitars Forward
It’s very easy to tell a story about how women are NOT lurking among the corridors of power within the music industry.
But I hate that story. I want that story to be vanquished into the dustbin of magazine writing, buried under profiles of outrageously successful women and companies led by women. So this piece is an attempt to redefine that. Let’s begin.
Paul Reed Smith (PRS) was started in 1985 by its namesake, Paul Reed Smith, a master luthier from Maryland. As many of our readers know, his company builds highly-regarded instruments, accessories and amplifiers played by Orianthi, Carlos Santana, and others. What’s often overlooked in the PRS story is that the company is run by a team of competent, smart, and driven women.
At PRS, there are 8 Directors, 5 of which are women. When you add in the full Senior Management, 45% are female. Women are involved in every part of PRS, and have been for many years: from operations, supply chain management, charitable fundraising, event management, artist relations, manufacturing, marketing, and public relations, women help drive PRS forward.
Here’s some of the women that make Paul Reed Smith the success it is.
Name: Beverly (Bev) Fowler
Title: Director of Artist Relations
As the Director of Artist Relations at PRS, Fowler routinely performs last-minute miracles for artists in need of equipment, noting, “A key part of artist relations is having a quick turn around. There are stolen guitars and broken guitars that fall off stands or trucks. Artists need tools to do their job. They expect us to be able to address their needs immediately.”
While competitors have teams of 20 or more, Fowler performs her magic with three people. For Fowler, no day is normal, and she must constantly adapt to evolving conditions. “I can come into work thinking I’m going to do X,Y, and Z. Then, within five minutes, that’s not going to happen.”
This variability applies to building relationships as well. When asked about common misperceptions about her job, Fowler states, “It’s a weird impression that it’s easy to land an artist! Especially one of a high stature. They have relationships with companies they’re working with. I try to be respectful of those, but it’s also my job to take those away. You ask someone to try something new and trust you.”
Name: Meghna Balakumar
Title: Purchasing Manager
With an education in supply chain management and an unremitting love of guitar-driven music, Meghna Balakumar is living her dream as PRS’s Purchasing Manager. A recent graduate, Balakumar is responsible for procuring most of the high dollar parts for PRS’s bolt ons, private stock, cases and amp offerings. In practice, this entails managing relationships with over 40 domestic and international suppliers, all of whom are responsible for creating everything from bridges, tuners, neck plates, pickguards, pickup, and magnets.
Already well-versed in guitars, working at PRS has given her a new eye for detail. “We have incredibly high quality standards here and we work diligently with our suppliers to meet them. I remember initially thinking our engineering and quality team were nutty when they’d point out scratches or blemishes to me that I truly couldn’t see. But I’ve started to develop that microscopic super vision we have at PRS. And it’s necessary, the attention to detail shows in the product.”
When asked what advice she would give readers hoping to break into purchase management, Balakumar notes, “My supply chain education was helpful to a point, but I think for most people, you learn way more on the job than a college classroom could ever teach you. Work experience is invaluable. “
Name: Meghan Efland
Title: Director of Supply Chain
With a background in anthropology and archeology, Efland came to PRS with an understanding material objects and how to date them. This proved to be useful. “One thing about the industry is that it’s very limited in terms of what is acceptable for modernizing. If you look at guitars from the 1950s or 1960s and compare them to what we have today, there are production and material improvements. All in all, they’re very similar, unlike a car from the 1950s or 1960s. There’s a limited amount of innovation that is allowed and accepted in our market. We really do try to look at what was done in the past and what’s been done currently.”
As the Director of Supply Chain, Efland works with widely different customers, suppliers, and legal frameworks every day. She travels regularly, conducting site visits with suppliers domestically and internationally (often in Asia) to vet whether manufacturers they have the capacity to deliver products. It’s complex work: natural disasters, shifting regulations, and human error are forces she contends with.
While Efland’s life experience has helped her in her role, Efland stresses that someone from any background can break into the field, regardless of their academic study: “If you like coming up with resolutions to problems, this is a job for you. I work with every team and a lot of it is how do you make things work better. In this role you get to be a conduit for that.”
Title: Night Shift Manager
Born in Sweden, Veronica has worked with PRS for almost two decades. Armed with a wicked sense of humor, Veronica jokingly described her responsibilities as “yelling at people all night long.”
Lighthearted barbs aside, Veronica is on the hook for making sure all workers in the factory are aware of their responsibilities. To ensure things run smoothly, she arrives at work an hour before her colleagues so she can review plans and execute them. It’s a high-pressure job, but PRS’s culture helps make it manageable. noting, “I’ve had ten days where I’ve felt like I haven’t wanted to go to work, whereas with my old job, I felt that way every day.” Part of this comes from the fact that leadership at the company trust their colleagues to do good work. “I think [Paul] knows that if you take care of the people, the people will take care of him.”
Name: Judy Schaefer
Title: Marketing Director
Judy Schaefer works as PRS’s Marketing Director, a role that requires her to showcase an extraordinary amount of flexibility. “I spend a lot time jumping between 30k foot strategy and block and tackle tasks that need attention, which keeps it fun and keeps me in touch with all the different facets we have going on. From product development, product launches to our dealers and distributors, and product announcements to the public – to our website, social media, and content strategies – to media and influencer relations, partnerships, events, advertising, dealer/distributor relationship support…I am also responsible for our accessories business!”
She credits the success of PRS to the strong team built over the years. “I think of myself as a conductor. When I started as the Marketing Manager in 2012, we had three people on the team, and I was able to work closely with everyone daily. Our brand and our products had a lot of history, and the demands on the department were consequently narrower in scope. Now, we are a team of seven handling an impressive amount of work for our size. That’s where the conductor analogy comes in…I try to set the pulse for the team and make sure everything is working harmoniously…I keep one ear upward to senior management and the business so I know how we need to adjust our strategy and one ear out with the team to make sure we’re all playing in time and in tune with each other.”
Name: Christie Woodard
Title: Director of Human Resources
An avid runner, Christie Woodard has been with PRS for over two decades. Starting her career as an Executive Assistant to the President and Production Manager.
Since starting in 1996, Christie has always seen women in management positions at PRS, for example, as the Head of Accessories, AR and Marketing. This is great news, because PRS is hiring right now, and Woodard encourages readers of She Shreds to apply to their open positions!
When asked about what she was most passionate about in her professional life, Woodard commented that she was eager to change the perception of careers in manufacturing and working with your hands. It’s why PRS has worked to partner with Caroline County Public School’s Caroline Career and Technology Centers to start a program called the Advanced Manufacturing and Production (AMP) Program. Within the program, students learn how to work with sophisticated machinery, and even build their own guitar.
Name: Meg Woodruff
Title: Basecoat Prepper
As a self-identified perfectionist with a fine arts background, Woodruff loves her work. Under the tutelage of her colleagues (some of whom she has a podcast with), Meg learned to use tools such as an orbital sander, training for months in order to master the delicate motions required for finishing a piece. She finds sanding flaws in finishes and taping therapeutic. Now in her role as a basecoat prepper, Woodruff is responsible for an array of tasks, including identifying pinholes in a finish prior to another round of painting.
Name: Jeanne Nooney
Title: Public Relations, Partnerships & Events
A graduate of Berklee College of Music and multi instrumentalist, Nooney is responsible for managing PRS’ public relations, events, partnerships, and charitable giving. In practice, this means Nooney plans and manages major events, such as Experience PRS, the company’s two-day open house which can see upwards of 3,300 people, as well as an influencer program. Warm, deeply knowledgeable about gear, and a diehard PRS-fan, Nooney has been with the company for almost 7 years. When asked about the company’s commitment to diversity, Nooney commented that, “PRS is committed to building, marketing and selling the best instruments that we can. At every level, the staff is passionate about the products. As a culture, we’ve always been open-minded to diversity – Maybe that is because we are so music based where instead of a corporate environment it is more creative and welcoming”
It shows. Within the last few years, PRS has seen increased sales. 2016 sales hit $43M, while 2017 were $50M, and 2018 at $58M, while USA production increased 45% in the last 18 months.