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By SUNY Potsdam
FCE Staff 

SUNY Potsdam to Award Honorary Doctorate to Former CEO of Guitar Center and Fender

Larry Thomas


Last updated 4/19/2016 at 8:55am

The State University of New York at Potsdam will present Larry E. Thomas, the retired CEO of Fender Musical Instruments and Guitar Center, with an Honorary Doctor of Music degree in a special ceremony at the College's upcoming Economic Fusion Day.

As home to The Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is proud to recognize Thomas for his long career in music business, as well as his legacy in arts education and philanthropy.

Thomas is the keynote speaker for Economic Fusion 2016 at SUNY Potsdam, which will be held on Wednesday, April 20 in the Performing arts Center.

All Economic Fusion events are free, and employers are particularly encouraged to attend. The schedule for the day's events is as follows:

Economic Fusion 2016: Wednesday, April 20

• Student Creative Idea Competition, 1 to 3 p.m .: This competition is designed to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship and highlight students' creative and innovative ideas. Entries can focus on business, service, creative or philanthropic ideas. Ideas will be judged on their social, cultural or economic impact. Finalists will present their ideas to a panel of alumni and community members to compete for prizes.

• Keynote Speech & Conferring of Honorary Degree, 3 to 4 p.m .: Larry E. Thomas will provide insight into his career leading Guitar Center Inc. and the Fender Music Corp., and will discuss the importance of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. President Kristin G. Esterberg will present Thomas with his honorary degree in a special ceremony just before his keynote address.

• Schmooze-A-Palooza, 4 to 6 p.m .: Employers from across the region will connect with students in a unique networking reception. In addition to finding out about different industries and job opportunities, students will be able to get valuable feedback on their resumes and "elevator pitch" speeches from professionals in an array of fields. Participating students who speak with five employers will be entered into a drawing to win an iPad.

• Award Presentations, 6 to 6:30 p.m .: Economic Fusion 2016 will conclude with the presentation of prizes for the Student Innovative Idea Competition, as well as the following awards:

-- Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year: Allison Carney '99 and Jeremy Carney '99, founders and owners of Brick & Mortar Music, Potsdam, N.Y.

-- Entrepreneurial Business of the Year: Atlantic Testing Laboratories, Canton, N.Y.

About the honoree:

Larry Thomas began his career in the music products industry in 1971, as an instrument wholesaler and importer with Buegeleisen and Jacobson Inc., before joining Guitar Center as a sales associate six years later. He diligently shared his passion for music and instruments on the ground floor for 10 years, until he was promoted to general manager in 1987. Thomas quickly gained recognition for his business acumen and fervor for music, moving up the corporate ladder to become president in 1991. He was then promoted to chief executive officer in 1997, a role he retained when three years later Thomas was named co-CEO and chairman of the board of directors, alongside Marty Albertson. Thomas retired in 2005, leaving behind a company that grew immensely under his supervision.

Thomas served on the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation Board of Directors until 2010, when he was tapped to lead the legendary guitar company. For a lifelong guitar aficionado, it was a dream come true. As the chief executive officer of Fender, Thomas oversaw a company with 3,000 employees and manufacturing facilities around the world. He was known for bringing an energetic leadership style to unleash creativity and innovation from employees at every level of the company. During his tenure, he led successful product launches for both the Fender Select and the Fender American Vintage series instruments, and established the company's first office in China. Under his leadership, the company also opened the doors of the Fender Visitor Center at the company's legendary original factory in Corona, Calif., so that people could see instruments made firsthand, and learn about Fender's long legacy and deep connections to the history of rock 'n roll, Jazz, country, Motown and world music.

As a longtime leader in the music products industry, Thomas has long been involved with the National Association of Music Merchants, through his participation in the annual NAMM Show and educational programs. In 2005, he founded the Guitar Center Music Foundation, which then went on to become the Fender Music Foundation when he joined that corporation. The non-profit organization strives to support music education and therapy programs across the nation, through the donations of instruments and charitable funding. Through partnerships with companies such as Paul Reed Smith, Gibson and Martin, the foundation has provided donations of guitars, percussion instruments, pianos, woodwinds, keyboards, brass instruments, saxophones, classical string instruments and vibraphones to programs across the United States. Since 2005, the Fender Music Foundation has reached more than 187,000 people of all ages through programs across the country. Gifts and grants are directed toward in-need, ongoing programs.

For more information, contact John M. Wicke, director of strategic alliances, at (315) 267-2106 or

To register or learn more, visit


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