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Heir to the Throne: A Chat with Courtland Gray of Peavey Electronics

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Issue Articles
  • January 2018
• Created: January 29, 2018

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Peavey Electronics Corporation is an American MI icon – one of the world’s largest audio equipment manufacturers and suppliers, and the brand behind a number of legendary amplifier and sound reinforcement lines that remain industry standards for many, to this day.

Hartley Peavey, the company’s well-respected founder and CEO, has long determined the direction and tone of the organization that bears his name, but in recent years major moves have been in place to transfer that power to his stepson, Courtland Gray.

We recently spoke with Gray, the heir-apparent to the Peavey legacy, about his own history within the company, the state of this significant transition of leadership, Peavy’s commitment to its American employees, new product developments, and what else the future holds…

Courtland, before we talk about your current and evolving role at Peavey, let’s start at the beginning: Can you tell our readers when you first started working at the company and how your duties have changed over time?

I joined Peavey about 16 years ago. At that time, Hartley wanted our finance company, PVF, to lease sound systems to churches and businesses and I was working for a commercial finance and leasing company. We began this program for PVF; it became extremely successful and I took over the management of PVF shortly thereafter.

I am a graduate of SMU [Southern Methodist University – Ed.] in communications, but I could see the need to delve further into managing globally and strategically. In 2003, I was accepted into the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. It is truly a highly immersive and a fully integrated program. It gave me the mindset for the change we needed to sustain our competitive edge. As I became more involved in the various sectors of our business, and after four years, Hartley announced my promotion to chief operating officer.

Taking over stewardship of such an iconic brand – from such an iconic individual as Hartley, no less – puts you in a rare position. What are your thoughts on the transition and how do you plan to stay true to Peavey’s roots and legacy, while also keeping the brand “current” and reacting to emerging trends, both in the MI market and popular culture?

Walking in Hartley’s footsteps is not something anyone else can do. His experience and legacy are second to none and I am not Hartley Peavey and never will be. On the other hand, I have the privilege of leading a dynamic team that has been put in place by both Hartley and me. These are highly talented and experienced individuals whom we believe can collectively continue the 52-year legacy of Peavey.

Peavey has long striven to do as much as it can, in terms of design and production of instruments and gear, domestically – and specifically in Meridian, Mississippi. Why is “made in the U.S.” so important to you and why do you think it’s of such significance to many consumers as well?

I believe Peavey has always been strongest when it comes to MI/audio manufacturing in the U.S. Certainly no others have invested as much in plant, property, and equipment over 52 years. As you know, the cost of U.S. manufacturing is greater than the rest of the world. We work especially hard to be as efficient as possible, as cost effective as possible, in keeping as much as we can here. Why? Because our people here at Peavey are so good at what they do, and besides that, they are the “salt of the earth” here – great people! In fact, most of the engineering behind our entire line of products is done right here in Meridian. There are many who are as passionate about “made in the USA” as are we, but most players also have a budget, and to be able to stay in the game, Peavey must always remain competitive.

The transition of leadership from Hartley to you, new product introductions – there’s a lot going on at Peavey! Are there any other developments, changes, initiatives, or new instruments/gear on the horizon that you’d like to share?

To remind you, Hartley is here most every day and he and I, as well as our team, are working with great focus on new products, both hardware and software. While we are all very excited about the new applications and their potential, it would be premature for me to detail here these multiple programs that are in various stages of development. I will mention, however, that among other things, we are making changes to the Composite Acoustics guitar line, adding a new Trace Elliot preamp we recently designed, and we will also be adding to the Elements weatherproof speaker line that is made in the U.S.

What’s your take on the overall state/health of the MI market?

I think the MI market is experiencing a great deal of distortion (no pun intended!). More and more competitors are scrapping it out for a place on the floor or a position on a banner ad. The customers are often not getting a clear message on individual products and their capabilities. At Peavey, after all, it is our responsibility to exceed expectations and thrill the player. We are determined to get our message through to the dealers, customers and distributors regardless of all the choices. More than ever, training is key, and we are always available for training on our products. Dealers who have been to a Peavey seminar know the value of this.

For Peavey, specifically, what are your expectations for the coming months?

I’m glad you mentioned “expectations,” but let me also expand on that to include the words hope and trust. Our hope is that our customers recognize Peavey’s unique products and approaches to a rapidly changing marketplace. We trust that many of our loyal customers appreciate that, over the past half-century, Hartley has made many changes in response to the realities of the marketplace. We expect to continue to refine our products and programs in response to today’s market, while our prime directive remains, “to be the best at what we do.”

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