John D'Addario III, '93, on running the family business

March 26, 2020
If you've ever played an instrument with a string, it was probably made by D'Addario.

If you’ve ever played an instrument with a string, it was probably made by D’Addario. The family began making guitar strings in Salle, Italy, as early as the 1600’s. Family members passed down the tradition for generations, including to John D’Addario III, ’93, who runs his family’s business today.

“Today we are the world’s largest designer, manufacturer, and distributor of musical instrument accessories, all of which are distributed to over 120 countries globally,” D’Addario said.

Musical instrument string manufacturing has been a part of his family’s legacy for more than 10 generations. Following a massive earthquake in 1905, his great-grandfather, Charles D’Addario, emigrated to the U.S. to sell the strings so that he could send money back home to help rebuild their homes and the village. Eventually, he got married and remained in Astoria, Queens, where he was forced to make strings himself, due to the import restrictions imposed by WWI.

“From there, the craft of string making was passed on to my grandfather, John Sr., and then to two of his sons, John D’Addario Jr. (my father) and Jim D’Addario. The two of them started the business that exists today back in 1973, and later passed it on to me,” D’Addario said.

Headquartered in Farmingdale, NY, the company operates out of six different manufacturing and distribution facilities, with additional factories in California and Texas, as well as sales, marketing, and distribution operations in Canada, Australia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

D’Addario says this allows him and his colleagues to focus on making their own raw materials and manufacturing unique products.

“Our focus is to be a high-quality, low-cost manufacturer which is only possible by way of our lean, continuous improvement culture, and our relentless commitment to automation and vertical integration,” D’Addario said. “We design, program, and build our own string manufacturing equipment and make the majority of our own raw materials, including music wire and monofilament synthetic materials.”

Though he knew he always wanted to go into the family business, he says his experience as a student in the Robins School gave him the tools he needed to run a successful international company.

“The Robins School of Business provided me with a particularly challenging curriculum, both academically and intellectually, which required me to hone my time management, organizational, and interpersonal skills,” D’Addario said. “I really enjoyed the stimulating business case studies and group projects I completed as well as the relationships that were formed through those experiences. The Robins School was a wonderful experience for me and prepared me well for the challenges ahead in my career as a business leader.”

After seeing his family run a successful business through ten generations, he has some advice for budding entrepreneurs.

“I would encourage you to concentrate your studies on consumer behavior and how brands can optimally engage consumers on their journey. When I graduated from Richmond in 1993, your ticket to success was fairly simple: have a great product with innovative features and tell the story through elegant packaging and advertising. Successful brands today need to do all these things while also providing engaging digital experiences,” D’Addario said. “For example, before we even launch a new product, we involve consumers in the development process by sending hundreds if not thousands of product beta samples with a story behind them. From there, consumers literally create a viral buzz about our new products before we even launch them. We are talking numerous consumer videos posted about their testing experience. By the time our new products are available, there is already a tremendous, anticipated demand for them.”

D’Addario also produces fretted and orchestral strings, woodwind reeds and mouthpieces, drumheads, drumsticks, and a wide variety of other accessories for musical instruments. The products are widely used by musicians, including touring professionals, amateurs, bands, and orchestras all over the world.