March 1, 2008
The Spirit Of A Man
It’s a cold Monday morning, but Kedar Massenburg is breaking a sweat. A personal trainer is putting him through his paces during a workout at The Gym in Montvale, New Jersey.
On a normal day, his strict routine would go unnoticed, but this day he’s being trailed by a reporter and photographer. The gym is abuzz with curiosity: “What is he-a rapper?” one woman smugly asks. When she is told that Massenburg, 44, owns a vineyard in Bordeaux, France, that produces a fine wine that’s distributed nationally, as well as a thriving entertainment company, her eyes widen. “What do I know,” she murmurs sheepishly and slinks away.
The truth is most people know little about this business maverick. In entertainment it’s easy to link extravagance to wantonness and ego, but those are not his indulgences. A shrewd behind-the-scenes negotiator and master marketer who’s always focused on growth, he is driven to find ways to change the business paradigm.
Massenburg, a Brooklyn native, holds a law degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law-Chapel Hill and worked in corporate America as a district manager for PepsiCo before launching his own artist management firm in 1991. Four years later, he formed Kedar Entertainment Inc., a record label, and introduced the neo-soul movement through artists such as Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Chico DeBarge. By 1999, the then 35-year-old mogul began a six-year reign as the youngest CEO and president of Motown Records.
Today, he’s returned to his entrepreneurial roots. As CEO of Kedar Entertainment Group, he operates an independent record label and management company that grossed more than $1 million in 2007. Through Kedar Beverages L.L.C., which he founded in 2005, he’s introduced his latest venture, wine, which he seeks to bring to a virtually untapped market: black consumers. “African Americans are only 10% of the consumption market,” Massenburg says.
Kedar’s K’orus is available in three varieties: merlot, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon. Introduced in November 2007, K’orus is already sold in nine states, including California, typically a tough region for French wines.
Massenburg tends to find great success charting his own course. We visited the aspiring wine mogul at his home and at the office to uncover how he manages his affairs.
“Why should I be the only one driving a Rolls [Royce]?” Massenburg asks. “It’s not fair when you’re the only one enjoying luxury.” Massenburg explains that because of changing dynamics in the music industry, it’s unreasonable to offer only small percentage points on a deal, particularly to proven artists. “They should be able to share in the risks and the profits,” he says, and has signed Joe and Chico DeBarge as full partners in his record label, Kedar Entertainment Group. His strategy: keep up-front production expenses low and invest in vehicles such as radio and performance promotions that will yield better exposure and strong sales.
Wine consumption among African Americans is up more than 5% over the past decade; however, blacks represent only 10% of wine drinkers as opposed to nearly 60% of cognac