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Play it again John
  Play it again John

Alan John Lewis Eady, commonly known as John, begins each day with the eyes of founder Lewis R Eady, his son Ray Eady and grandson John Eady Senior looking down on him from photographs on the showroom wall. They’re a reminder that rich traditions and relationships are in his hands.

As one of five children, John grew up with the business as part of his life. But knowing about it was one thing; he had no inkling that one day it would be his.

An avid sportsman, he also had a passion and talent for classical music. He passed his LTCL & LRSM diplomas, and was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Royal College of Music in London where he studied performance and teaching for four years. His instrument of choice was the clarinet. In order to pay for his ‘habit’, he became a property developer and renovator and learned how businesses tick.

In 2000, a marriage breakup coincided with his father beginning to make noises about succession planning. Change seemed a good idea.

“All the family members were asked if they were interested. They were not, so it was agreed that I would come into the operation and then decide if I really did want to take over the ownership,” John says.

Though he was comfortable reading both balance and song sheets, hard data alone didn’t tell the full Lewis Eady story. Long-term relationships were a key part of the enterprise.

“Making a $150,000 investment in a Steinway is a big step and the process never involves a quick sale. We have a number of client families who have been with us for three generations so I had to understand this aspect of the operation.”

His father remained managing director while John was given responsibilities for marketing, promotions and human resources. It wasn’t until 2006—after what he says was a rather extended due diligence process—that he formally bought the business.

“One of the hardest parts was negotiating with Dad. We both found it a challenge to step out of our traditional relationship and take a totally hard-nosed approach. It wasn’t a case of playing with a few numbers while having a beer. We both had lawyers and the process was done quite formally based on finding a fair market price for the business,” he says.

But the deal was struck in the knowledge that both were part of the family, with close ties and long traditions. By nature there would always be some give and take.

His father stayed in the business for two years but John has been flying solo ever since and has added his own touches.

“We’re traditional and conservative, but must also remain current and innovative. We have launched a Music School with the aim of getting ‘cradle to grave’ music lovers and purchasers. We have a charitable trust to support the arts. We’ve also embraced IT. When I arrived we had no website and only one computer,” he says. “We joke that we missed a century— going from the 19th straight to the 21st.”

That situation has changed. Yet, some of the lessons learned from the past haven’t gone unnoticed.

“In light of the recent recession, the durability of the operation has paid dividends. I had minute books dating back to the Great Depression to give me some insight. I found there was an increased need for servicing and repairs versus new sales. Subsequently I geared up this side of the operation.”

Much as he would probably like spectacular growth, John is realistic about the business being what he calls a “niche within a niche”.

“Six percent of the population are into their music—and being a traditional, acoustic-oriented business, we’re a niche within this. We build the business on relationships and aren’t sales driven per se.”

Though John is still young, what will happen when his time is up is already on his mind. He has three children and will steer the opportunity in their direction at a suitable time and place.

“If they aren’t interested I’ll find another means of keeping the family name alive. When you reach four generations in business, you want to make sure you’re not the one to be the author of its demise.”

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