Two years ago, a group of about 60 business owners and corporate executives convened at the Champps Americana sports bar and grill in Addison. The meeting had all the trappings of your typical business mixer—suits, ties, name tags, drinks.
Steve Crane, a managing partner at ProOperate, a firm that provides interim executive operations for companies in transition, had called the group together for a single purpose. Everyone in the room had the same secret and, if it wasn’t quite a secret, it wasn’t something they talked much about. Until now.
“Inside the room, the excitement level just kept getting bigger,” Crane says. “There were no barriers, there were no pitches.”
This was the coming-out party for BYO Musicians Network Inc., a place for professionals to shed pinstripes for sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off. Talents that had been tamped down years ago in favor of successful business careers—drums, guitar, bass, banjo, a voice just like Johnny Cash—were about to take center stage.
Terry Schpok, a partner at the downtown law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, serves as the organization’s chair and its legal counsel. He says that BYO officially stands for Business Yields Opportunities, but there’s also the “build your own” element. Members can assemble their own bands with like-minded professionals who share a common interest in AC/DC, the blues, or gypsy jazz. As for Schpok, he’s good to go on the guitar, mandolin, and banjo.
The members play charity events, such as fundraisers for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. And because BYO does the organizing, the group’s 270 members and prospective members can participate as much or as little as they want—or tailor their participation to a particular charity he or she wants to support. The musicians volunteer their time and the band costs the charity nothing. Since its launch, BYO musicians have performed at charity events that have raised more than $800,000.
Crane is proud of BYO’s charitable component, but stresses the business value of the networking model, too. The group’s industry reach is broad, boasting members in venture capital, wealth management, accounting, and oil and gas. Twenty-two percent of the network’s members are company presidents; 17 percent are owners, and 13 percent hold other positions in the c-suite.
“You know the adage: you do business with people you know, like, and trust,” Crane says. “And if you share a passion, you’re already halfway there.”
The seeds for BYO were sown as far back as 2008, when Crane, active in the business community for more than 30 years, saw that drumming up new business through referral networks had become almost impossible. “The rooms filled up because a lot of people became unemployed … but generally there are no corporate executives or business owners in the room,” Crane says.
The other challenge became attracting new blood. “I walk into a room, and I know 70 percent of the people,” Crane says. “I saw them last night. And the topic of conversation is, ‘So, are you going to be at the event tomorrow?’ ” For Crane, this was a problem without a good solution until a colleague, Brenda Legger, joined him for drinks with two business valuations experts. Everyone talked shop, and then the conversation turned to music. One of the valuation experts was a jazz drummer, the other one was the bass player for a local Pink Floyd tribute band. Crane fronts country and western dance bands and loves Dwight Yoakam, something Legger never knew.
“You might play golf for business, but you don’t talk about something like that,” Crane says.
Legger suggested the creation of what would become BYO. Crane was hesitant, but was eventually hooked. He wasn’t good at golf, but he had played the guitar since he was 14. Coincidentally, there were plenty of people in the business community who had once dreamed of becoming the next Eric Clapton or Axl Rose.
“We have people who were in a band 20 or 25 years ago and they’d like to do it again, and now they don’t have the time,” Schpok says. “… When they were in school, they had all the time to do it, and no money to do it. Now they have the money, and no time.”
Meanwhile, if Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly reads this, Crane would appreciate a call. He knows how much you love playing the guitar.