Kansas drummer Phil Ehart to speak March 20 at Auburn University

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The Auburn University College of Business will host Phil Ehart, co-founder of the rock band Kansas, as a guest speaker Wednesday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m. in 125A Lowder Hall. The event is open to the public.

“The Business of Music Speakers Series is part of the College of Business’ Diversity Initiatives,” said College of Business Diversity Officer Sarah Stanwick. “The music industry represents a very diverse industry – from the talent who produces and performs the music, to the people who listen to the different genres of music.

“Music is a bridge connecting people from all different backgrounds and experiences. Bringing in an internationally-known person representing the music industry is something that I have wanted to do for several years. Our students will have an opportunity to learn more about the music industry from Phil Ehart. He brings 40 years of experience in the industry from musician to band manager that will provide our students with an insider’s view.”

Ehart said there is little difference between managing a rock ‘n’ roll band and managing a business, that it’s like any other business, but with better stories.

“If you look at Kansas as purveyors of a product, we have our music, it is art, it is packaged and sold and bought and re-packaged, re-mastered, re-sold, re-invented and re-packaged again,” he said from his suburban Atlanta home. “You have tours where you go out – not unlike salesmen, where you go out on the road and sell a product. People pay to buy or see that product. You have profit and loss, you have insurance and you have expenses and accounting. You have employees, but you try not to have turnover. You have pension funds, 401ks and you hire and fire.”

Ehart said Wednesday’s presentation will touch on numerous points.

“It’s going to be the story of a band that pretty much came from out of nowhere,” he said. “It’s a story of six guys from a small town in Kansas (Topeka) and four of us went to high school together. It’s the story of us being discovered by a rock ‘n’ roll impresario Don Kirshner. He had formed the Monkees and the Archies, and he heard Kansas and decided that he was going to make us famous. He took us out of the small town, and through a lot of hard work and a lot of luck and breaks, the band became successful.

“It has a business acumen to it that shows where people with passion, thoughts and ideas can succeed no matter where you come from, and then continue that success. It’s about making good decisions in business, making bad decisions in business and what those ramifications mean. It can apply to any walk of life.”

Despite serving as the band’s manager for the past 25 years, Ehart says he earned his business education at the “school of hard knocks.”

“We had a manager early on and he wanted to move into some other areas, so about 25 years ago I said, ‘Guys, I’ll manage the band for a few days until we find another one,'” he said.

Twenty-five years later, he’s still the manager.

“Being a manager is really watching what was going on around me, seeing how things were done, really just learning from paying attention,” he said. “I’ve always had good accountants and good attorneys around me and the band, and learning from them how to do things and how not to do things.”

Ehart said a big part of managing was “handling problems.”

“The manager of a band, at least our band, is to foresee problems that are coming and to make sure those problems don’t become problems,” he said. “Nothing’s worse than being sideswiped or blind-sided by a problem that you didn’t see coming. Through experience and paying attention, you are able to foresee what’s coming and keep those problems from knocking you off-track.”

He noted that, like in any business, keeping in-house tensions at bay are important.

“In a lot of ways, in most bands, each member has an equal say,” he said. “Like with Kansas, the original band, we had six bosses. There’s a lot of compromise and there’s a lot of give and take because you need to be headed in the same direction. If you have six guys going in different directions, it gets difficult.”

Beginning Friday, March 22, Kansas will begin a three-week tour in Salisbury, Mass., that covers four states and Mexico as the band continues to celebrate its 40th year. The band has produced 14 Hot 100 Billboard hits, 14 studio albums and seven concert albums.

Though much of Ehart’s attention is focused on his band, he manages to make “five or six” speaking engagements each year.

“Speaking engagements are something that I look at as a privilege,” he said. “Drumming, that’s my job. It’s an honor to come and do something like this. It’s cool for me to hang with students and get their thoughts and ideas, to see if I can help in any way, and pass on some sort of semblance of experience through 40 years of doing this that people can apply to their lives and businesses.”

(Written by Joe McAdory.)

Contact: Joe McAdory, College of Business (334) 844-5105 (jem0040@auburn.edu),
Sarah Stanwick, College of Business (334) 844-6205 (stanwsd@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)