How did the creators of GORE-TEX® products—worn by outdoor enthusiasts and people with active lifestyles all over the world—invent a new kind of guitar string?
Imagine a job where you can follow your passion and apply your knowledge to develop a revolutionary product in a new industry for your company.
Although manufacturers have coated their guitar strings for many years to make them last longer by protecting them from perspiration, oil, and dirt, the coating severely compromised the quality of the sound.
Gore had no presence in the music industry until one associate envisioned a completely new type of guitar string that would prevent string contamination, last longer, and be more comfortable for musicians to play. Relying on the company’s unique culture and mentoring system to support his efforts, he formed a cross-functional team—including Michael and John—to make it happen.
Each member of the Gore team had the knowledge and know-how needed to develop this exciting new product. With the entrepreneurial spirit characteristic of Gore, they took this innovative concept to the marketplace in less than two years.
But the team’s commitment to integrity didn’t stop in the lab. They asked 15,000 musicians to test the new strings for sound quality before the product was introduced. Since then, revolutionary ELIXIR® Strings have inspired a generation of musicians all over the world to pick up their guitars and play. And their ELIXIR® Strings experience and the challenges they overcame have changed their lives, too. Here are their stories.
John first joined Gore as an intern as he was earning his engineering degree. Although he now works in Gore's Fine Filtration Products business, he was a key member of the ELIXIR® Strings team for several years.
John learned about the company through some friends at college who were doing co-ops at Gore. From his friends' experiences, John says, "It sounded like Gore was a great place to work; a place to make money and have fun. It also sounded like a company that fostered creative thought; development; and new, innovative products—and if you had an idea for making a better product or a new product, they let you work on it. So I was definitely interested in working for Gore."
This initial perception proved to be true. John interviewed with Gore on campus and was offered an internship with the industrial dry filtration business in machine design. He says, "I was really able to design things on my own with input from others even though I was still in college. I thought, “Wow, there’s a lot of freedom for me to be able to do these things,” and I really enjoyed it. I was there for seven months, and I stayed on board after that, doing my senior design project with Gore and working part-time until I graduated."
At Gore, we believe it's important to do something you're passionate about. We encourage associates to find work that motivates them to be successful. Once he joined Gore full-time, says John, "I heard that we were developing guitar strings, and I got excited because I’m a musician. When I was a kid I thought that working in the music industry would be awesome. I got the chance to try some of the strings on my guitar when the team was just doing trials, and I realized the product was great. I started networking to make it known that I’d love to get a chance to work with that business.” And his efforts paid off. Explains John, "Although I wasn’t involved in the grassroots effort of getting the ELIXIR® Strings off the ground, I joined the team two years later."
Using ELIXIR® Strings as an example—which last three to five times longer than ordinary strings while delivering great tone—John says, "I think our approach to products is unique: making something that fulfills a need that nothing else can. I think it reinforces the value customers see in the brand, and when they see something new coming out, it really influences them to try it. That’s what’s important to me."
John says that working at Gore has taught him patience. "To develop a product that’s really good, you have to be patient. The more constructive time you can put into this kind of effort, the more it pays off in the end. I've also learned that you need to think strategically, because not all ideas work out. Some of the most interesting concepts never even make it to the market."
"Our culture is based on freedom, commitment, and creativity," says John, "so we need to hire really good people. That's really exciting, and you get energized by it because you feel like each person is making a difference. I believe in how we treat our customers and our suppliers, that we have a good reputation, and that it’s everybody’s job to be a part of that."
John's not alone in his enthusiasm. "If you walk into any plant, and you start talking to folks, you'll find out they’re passionate about what they do. We’re doing something a little different here. Gore provides me with an outlet for creativity. It’s a great place to work, and I’ve always been very happy with my decision to join Gore."
Michael joined Gore with a background as a professional musician. Although he still plays music, he is now a consultant for Gore, working on the professional musicians program for Gore's ELIXIR® Strings business.
"I’ve made my living as a guitarist and songwriter since I was 15," says Michael. "I've always had four or five different projects going, which sort of combined to make my career. I had a solo career, a couple of bands, and have also played as a sideman for other songwriters."
Michael relates, "I was playing in south Texas in the summer of 1996 when the original business leader for ELIXIR® Strings was backstage at the show with sample strings he'd brought to get feedback from musicians. He gave me a couple sets of strings. I remember putting them on my guitar because the hot, humid Texas climate had killed the tone of the set I was playing. Two or three days later, I was still playing the same set of strings, which was impressive."
He continues, "I was in touch with him again and he was looking for musicians to go to music stores with sample strings, although they were still not available in the market. So I started helping to get the strings into retail. I didn’t know a lot about Gore as a company at the time, but I knew I was really impressed with the product, which is what drew me to the company itself." A world traveler, Michael has done a lot of kayaking and skiing, where he wore GORE-TEX® outerwear. "Having the company behind the brand was definitely appealing. And just knowing how well GORE-TEX® fabrics had performed for me, I knew that ELIXIR® Strings were superior."
Michael was eventually offered a position in field sales. "It was a challenge at first," he says, "because I had a lot of freedom as a musician. I had always set my own schedule—if I wanted to take six weeks off and travel to Europe, I could. I didn’t have much of a reference point for working for a corporation. So the amount of freedom offered by Gore was very appealing."
Although working for Gore represented an opportunity, says Michael, "I also believed in the product. If it had been one of Gore's competitors offering me the same job, it would have been tough for me to sell that product based just on price. With the ELIXIR® brand, it's based on quality and value, and I've tried pretty much every brand of string out there over the years."
ELIXIR® Strings changed the music landscape by giving musicians confidence in their strings. As one of the first musicians to rely on the strings, Michael says that confidence "is the first word that comes to mind for me—confidence that when you open the case and you grab your guitar, it’s going to be in playable condition and you won't have to take that extra time to change and break in a new set of strings. Michael represents Gore at trade shows and music festivals. He says, "People walk by and they have literally said, 'These strings saved my life.' Or they'll say, 'Best strings on the market.' Musicians are very passionate about their gear. They want to have that confidence; they want to have that trust. And to hear somebody come by and talk about a guitar string like it's a heart valve is unbelievable."