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Jennifer Schwartz, VP at Fender Musical Instruments Corporation: “Use clear, strong language when communicating; In order to gain confidence from executives, you need to make sure you use the language that reflects that confidence”

I think the biggest challenge for emerging executives is, sorry to sound obvious, comes down to clear communication. Early in my career I was an editor for a music magazine. This experience forced me to communicate clearly to 100,000’s of readers on a regular basis. I use those clear communication skills every day. How? I […]


I think the biggest challenge for emerging executives is, sorry to sound obvious, comes down to clear communication. Early in my career I was an editor for a music magazine. This experience forced me to communicate clearly to 100,000’s of readers on a regular basis. I use those clear communication skills every day. How? I don’t bury the lead. Whether I’m delivering a presentation for a new feature or talking to a team member about their goals. I clearly state the “who,” “what,” “where,” — and most importantly “when.” Clear deadlines, clear direction and never assuming the listener knows what you’re talking about are crucial.


As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Schwartz. Jennifer is the Vice President of Digital Product at Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC), the world’s leading guitar and musical instruments manufacturer transforming music history since 1946. Schwartz brings more than 20 years of digital experience to this position and currently leads the digital product team in creating Fender Digital’s apps and web experiences, including Fender Play™, Fender Tune™ and Fender Tone™ for iOS and Android™. Schwartz has worked in the digital realm for over two decades leading digital content strategy and product management efforts for iconic brands including Disney, Food Network and Live Nation/Ticketmaster, as well as other innovative, niche startups. At this point in her life, Schwartz is most excited about teaching more people–especially female players –how to play and seeing the feedback and progress along each budding musician’s learning journey.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Jennifer! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

This is truly my dream job. I feel like it’s a culmination of all my previous jobs, and that each step of my career — and my personal passions — has led to this role. I’ve always loved music and have spent my career in numerous capacities within the music industry, from being a lead singer in an all-female band, owning a record store, working at a major label, being an editor of a music magazine and working with the world’s leading concert promoter to Fender, where I get to spend my days helping people play more music.

What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

I feel like I am the right person to join Fender to help people learn to play. Fender is an iconic brand, up there with a small handful of iconic American brands that stand the test of time, fashion and trends. The Fender name is known for quality and integrity. When this role became available, I jumped at the chance to be a part of this legendary instrument company.

I knew I could bring empathy to those wanting to join the “players’ club,” a space that has been known as an exclusive, male-dominated club that isn’t open to new players. And, as we’ve seen, the percentage of women purchasing new guitars is now at 50 percent. This an underserved community and I knew with my background I could also bring a voice to this community.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

The biggest difference is being able to lead strategically as well as tactically. As an executive at Fender, it requires the ability to look forward years in advance yet be able to guide the team through each project, line by line of code.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I love being able to take an initiative, a far-off concept and turn it into reality. Being an executive allows me to drive a vision through to completion where, in this case, we are teaching people to play guitar; that’s the most rewarding experience of my career so far.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

It’s hard to find the time to do all the things. I miss being able to participate more in the day to day development, but of course, that can be, in my opinion, one of the biggest pitfalls a leader can fall into. To get into the weeds, when you should be strategic, can often create obstacles for the team. I know I have to lift my head up and keep moving the team forward.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

The myth is that an executive leader means serious, corporate and rigid. When, in fact, here at Fender usually by 4:00 in the afternoon our CEO is jamming on serious metal riffs from his office. LOUD. Sometimes we have to pause our meetings and join in. We try and make sure that every office and conference area has at least one guitar and amp, and all meeting rooms are named after Fender players like Clapton, Cobain and Richards.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Of course, there are numerous challenges for women in any industry, but the music industry, in my opinion, is one of the hardest. Even though the data supports the strength of female consumers, from concert-goers to players — it’s still seen as male dominated. As such, there are just fewer women leaders in the industry, and those who are there have to push a little harder, speak a little louder, etc. just to be heard. At Fender, my personal leadership is to mentor women on my team and foster their growth within the executive realm.

Beyond the music industry, however, the biggest challenge for women is balancing motherhood. Having raised a kid while balancing a full-time career was by far the hardest thing ever. There are only 24 hours in a day, and how you devote time to two things at once just isn’t easy.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most interesting element of my role at Fender is how we’ve managed to help a longstanding MI company fully embrace the power of technology. After just a few months of starting the company’s first digital team, we developed and released our first app, a guitar tuner app. Within months, we were all surprised at how the power of the brand, and a quality experience, lifted the awareness and showed the potential for what we’re doing. It was fascinating to experience the entire company grow by leaps and bounds into the future after just a few short months. Talk about agile!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first demoed our first app, Fender Tune, I was brought in to actually demo the product which was designed with the beginner player in mind. Although I’ve played on and off for years, I’ve never been able to tune by ear, so when I tried to tune the E string in front of executives, I realized I can’t tell the difference between sharp and flat. So I was twisting the pegs thinking I was flat. I kept winding and winding till I snapped a string. I then realized we need to revise the app to visually show sharp vs flat and how to tune up or down.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

When I first launched Fender Play, it was focused on video learning. However, soon after we launched, we saw our small, little Facebook private group just explode with engagement and activity. We realized these beginners found a supportive, safe space to share their progress and frustrations. We immediately mobilized to expand the reach of community. Earlier this year, we launched a live weekly live-streamed show, that is simulcast on Fender’s Facebook and YouTube channel. We bring in artists and instructors who are familiar to the community to support and inspire new players. Seeing the feedback and reactions to this new type of player community, I was surprised to see such a strong and positive community emerge. I had no idea my role would help to drive this kind of engagement.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

I think the biggest challenge for emerging executives is, sorry to sound obvious, comes down to clear communication. Early in my career I was an editor for a music magazine. This experience forced me to communicate clearly to 100,000’s of readers on a regular basis. I use those clear communication skills every day. How? I don’t bury the lead. Whether I’m delivering a presentation for a new feature or talking to a team member about their goals. I clearly state the “who,” “what,” “where,” — and most importantly “when.” Clear deadlines, clear direction and never assuming the listener knows what you’re talking about are crucial.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I ask all female members of my team to remove the following words and phrases: “I hope to be able to…,” “I think I can…,” “We’re trying to …” I’ve noticed men rarely set up presentations with these phrases, yet women often do. I’ve worked hard myself to be confident, direct and clear.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Early in my career, the publisher for the music magazine I edited was a true inspiration. Her strong vision and direction helped me to understand what it takes to be a good leader. What stands out most about my working relationship with her was when she took a chance on me as a writer. I had been hired to help with sales tasks, however, I found the nerve to pitch my first story. She helped me craft it and printed it. From there, I was able to work my way to being an editor, which then launched my life-long passion for content.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Oh, that’s an easy one. I get to help people play guitar, bass and ukulele. Music is inspirational, therapeutic and, in many ways, can change the world. If I can help one person play more music, then that can collectively contribute to a better world.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Use clear, strong language when communicating. In order to gain confidence from executives, you need to make sure you use the language that reflects that confidence.
  2. Don’t micromanage. By taking a step back and empowering your team, you can make more progress and get better results through collaboration.
  3. Go with your instincts. When presenting a plan, I use my gut to make sure our goals and KPIs will be delivered. Don’t oversell and use data when instincts fail.
  4. Take more risks, What I love about Fender is we are fully supported to test, try and fail. Having that luxury allows us to innovate in ways never before.
  5. Never say no to an idea. Even if it’s a bad one, I can always say “…with time and money, we can do it.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to see more women working as leaders in the technology space. It starts with girls in elementary school. I’d love to help show how women can choose this career path. I’d also love to inspire and model how women can use creativity and expression to create and develop new and innovative digital products.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” — Unknown

I’m actually stealing this quote from our CEO’s desk. I love it because it sums up how I feel about making uncomfortable changes in my career. For example, when I went into digital years ago, it was an unproven medium. It sounds funny to say back then, but in those early days it was hard to get support from early web companies. I knew the future was here, so I persisted and ignored those worries of failure.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Keith Richards. He’s one of the most influential guitar players. I would love to chat with him about his inspirations and stories from the road.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


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