Fast Track

Music can inspire more than masses--it also helped this entrepreneur start a leadership training business.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the January 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Name and age: Robert Van Arlen Smith, 40

Company name and description: Phoenix, Arizona-based motivationthroughmusic provides leadership training using music to improve processes and productivity.

Starting point: Founded in 1998 with $350,000 from personal savings 2000 sales: $750,000

2001 sales projections: $1 million plus

The story: Smith was moving up the corporate management ladder when he was assigned to lead one of the lowest-ranking sales teams at a legal publishing company. A gospel organist while growing up, Smith decided to experiment with music as a motivational tool, even taking his sales team to a studio to record a song. "Within a year, we were the top-performing team in the company, and we held that position for three years," he says. As he fine-tuned his techniques, Smith realized that of all his management responsibilities, what he enjoyed most was helping people enhance their performance and cope with organizational change, and that the need for such assistance was practically universal. "We were having so much success with that one company, why not bring it to the rest of the world?" he says. And motivationthroughmusic was born.

Making music: Smith's approach is simple: Humans find it hard to change, and music-used both metaphorically and experientially-helps that process. "People are able to relate to musical metaphors," Smith explains. "The music-creation process is melody, harmony and rhythm. What is the melody, harmony and rhythm of the organization, and how do we tie that to the melody, harmony and rhythm of all the individuals in the organization?"

A different drum: Smith's nontraditional concept is finding acceptance in the business world. Smith says corporate America is realizing great leaders need to merge left-brain analytical thinking with right-brain creativity. "With that combination, you're going to bring more passion to the process," he says. "Passion, creativity, being able to think on your feet and being able to quickly change direction all need to be part of the process in order to compete today."

Beyond the introduction: With a solid client base in place, Smith is making money in other ways, too: by releasing a line of CD audio products that reinforce the concepts he teaches and by composing theme songs for companies. In January 2000, he formed characterthroughmusic, a nonprofit foundation using music to help children learn the value of good character.


Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 14 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.

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