Forget Maui. When execs want to unwind, some are heading to band camp, where they form acts and trade hot licks. They also, apparently, come home with new management skills.
By Pete Gerstenzang, contributor
FORTUNE -- If you've watched any of the highly charged, heavily editedepisodes of "Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy Camp" on VH1, you're not really getting the complete picture. You may be imagining that the camp is primarily peopled with combative, longhaired, chain wallet-wearing dudes, who look like they should be roadying for the Allman Brothers.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. But these five-day camp programs hosted in several locations across the country -- where "civilians" get to jam with their rock heroes -- are now fairly filled with CEOs, CMOs, and execs of all stripes.
Forget Maui. When upper-management wants to unwind, some of them are heading to band camp, where they form acts and trade hot licks with artists like Ozzy's (as in, Osbourne) lead guitarist. And, perhaps surprisingly, they return to their companies with new management skills.
"I've been an attorney for 30 years and now have my own firm," says Frank Pawlak, 58. "I've been involved in a variety of court cases, such as unlawful discrimination and employee wage compensation. It's wonderful work, but stressful. Going to The Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy Camp is the best remedy for this I know."
Pawlak, who has attended the camp twice, says he's not sure what's more impressive about the rock getaways, which average $6,000 for the week, or $8,000 if you choose the recording studio package: whether it's the way it makes you a better musician, or how it sharpens your skills so you can become a more intuitive manager.
"Certainly, by playing with guys like Warren Haynes [of The Allmans], your skill level rises and you become more confident on your instrument," says Pawlak, who plays guitar. "I mean, try to imagine the best guitar teachers in the world, showing you how to play a riff they invented. But, if you pay attention to the group interaction, you also come away from Fantasy Camp as an improved executive."
While more and more camp attendees are executives, says Pawlak, they still have various temperaments and come from different fields. And getting along with each other in such a closed environment is imperative, he claims.
"When you're thrust into a band situation with, say, an oil baron and a software CEO, you have lots of disparate personalities," says Pawlak. "You all have to figure out quickly how to work well together, so your 'presentation' goes smoothly. I know we did. And after playing our three-song gig at The Whiskey, at camp's end? Let's just say I've newfound interactive skills. And they're still paying off in how I runthings in my business life."
Pete Krainik, 54, founder of The CMO Club, a program that brings chief marketing officers together so that they can "become better at what they do," says he was feeling "excited but worried" about forming a band and playing live at his Rock 'N' Fantasy Camp experience this past February.
"I'm a keyboard player, but I hadn't played in a band in 30 years. Still, I knew this was the place to play. Especially since Teddy Zig Zag [who has played with Guns 'N' Roses] would be there. If you're going to brush up on your chops, he's the guy to learn from."
As exciting as Krainik says his twice-monthly CMO Summits are, it was hard to top this experience. "You feel like a groupie for a few hours meeting your heroes," he says, "but pretty soon, the novelty wears off and you get down to business. And as wonderful as it was working on my keyboard technique, I learned so much about being a better CMO. The week paid for itself."
For Krainik, guitarist Steve Stevens' breakdown of "White Wedding," the Billy Idol song on which he plays, speaks volumes about what he learned from his time at band camp.
"Each section of the song was analyzed, so we could all understand how to make the song have more impact," says Krainik. "And even though I was there to learn about rock, I also began to think about brands. I wondered, 'How often do we take apart the brand or campaign we're working on and figure out the best way to reassemble it so we can really reach our customers?' That was an 'aha' moment for me."
Andy Roberts, 47, a senior project manager at telecommunications firm NTT America, claims he may have learned more about human psychology during his recent week at 'camp' than at college.
"There are about 65 people of different ages and backgrounds at the camp," Roberts says. "You need to learn to be reasonable and considerate with all of them, but especially with the people in your band. My group played Black Label Society's song 'Stillborn' on our final night. As you can imagine, we all had to really be patient with each other when we learned that song. It's pretty complicated."
David Fishof, the founder of this rock-themed camp is pleased, but unsurprised, to hear such praise. And the camp is even making its way to offices.
"There's no question that we're seeing more executives at these camps," says Fishof. "But we're also doing one-day corporate camps, where I go to, say, GE with a rock star, like Lita Ford or Mark Hudson. We'll 'crash' a sales meeting with Mark and say to everybody, 'Okay, here's the guy who wrote the lyrics to 'Livin' On The Edge.' And we get the folks from GE to re-write the lyrics to describe what it's like working at GE. We get someone to do the choreography. We have them perform the song that night."
Fantasy band camp is not just good for these execs' management acumen; it can also, apparently, soothe the soul. Fishof relates a story in which a Morgan Stanley staffer was sent back to camp by his therapist for some R&R. "'Do yourself a favor,'" the therapist reportedly told the exec. "'Stop coming here. Go rock out.'"