Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Summer 2004Kellogg School of Management
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  Larry Benders '82
Larry Benders '82

Rock around the clock
Larry Benders '82 is helping preserve the history of modern music

by Raksha Varma

Larry Benders '82 landed the greatest gig of his life in 1999: an opportunity to marry his passion for music with his business savvy. As vice president of marketing and sales for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, Benders oversees several aspects of the Cleveland landmark's market mix.

"I struck a balance with this position," Benders says. "I'm able to spend time with my family, while working in an environment open to my appreciation for music and expertise in marketing and sales."

Benders and his team are also accountable for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum's overall attendance. The 9-year-old nonprofit cultural museum hosts about half a million visitors annually. Designed by acclaimed architect I.M. PEI, the 150,000 square-foot building is jammed with automobiles, original lyrics and vintage clothing worn by the world's most celebrated and influential rock icons.

"I've had the opportunity to assemble the corporate mentality behind music," says Benders, 47. "I am very lucky to be here. It took a long time to get here, but it was worth it."

Originally from Newton, Mass., Benders graduated in 1978 from Yale University, where music was his full-time career. Not only did he sing in and direct several groups, Benders was a member of the Whiffenpoofs, the 95-year-old collegiate a cappella group.

After working for Teradyne, a Boston-based supplier of automatic test equipment and interconnection systems, Benders received a leadership award from Johnson & Johnson Co., which honored him with a full scholarship to the MBA program of his choice and two summer internships with the company.

"I wanted to study marketing because my father had a long career in the field," says Benders, who entered the Kellogg School in 1980. "Kellogg taught me to ask questions, to ensure that one's business resources are allocated against an objective."

Following graduation, Benders went to work for Johnson & Johnson in 1983.

"Johnson & Johnson taught me the importance of product. Product is all. Product must deliver," says Benders, who was an assistant product manager at the New Jersey headquarters.

Benders, who had married Alison Benders, a visiting student at Northwestern Law School in 1982, eventually wanted a position that permitted more time with his wife and four children and less time traveling.

After working with a few companies, Benders became the chief marketing officer of Ben and Jerry's Co. in 1997. He exercised three important marketing strategies to make the brand more competitive.

"To succeed, companies must know their customer," Benders says. "Understand what compels a customer to buy your product. Distribution is also key, so make sure people can find your product. Lastly, companies must rely on accurate communication. Make sure that what your product's message is supports what it does."

Benders continued to rely on these strategies when he started working for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, a $15 million-dollar operation. Not only is he responsible for the museum's earned income and attendance, he is also responsible for brand awareness and advertising efforts.

"Because I work for a nonprofit, our advertising dollars are limited," he says. "Nonetheless, I try to market the museum as a regional attraction with the use of several media," including radio and outdoor advertising. Although TV and print are seldom used, the museum's Web site ( is an important advertising vehicle.

"Marketing and advertising for a museum is similar to managing a conventional brand, such as cereal," Benders says."To be successful, companies have to figure out the attributes of their products and how they relate to the target audience. "

Unlike cereal, which can be distributed via stores in varying locations, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum cannot change its distribution. "Unlike other products, geography is a challenge for the museum," he says. "I try to make decisions that take that aspect into account. Companies should use challenges to their advantage."

Although managing a nonprofit museum can indeed be challenging, Benders loves the thrill of "knowing his brand inside and out."

"I sell rock and roll," Benders says. "Selling rock and roll isn't curing cancer. But it's art and it's culture. Working to preserve that is good work. It's not a lot of money, but it's good work, and I'm proud."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University