Ken Lombard

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With eight Grammy Awards bestowed on the Ray Charles' "Genius Loves Company" in February, Starbucks Coffee Co. instantly became a sought-after music collaborator.

"One industry executive said to me that their guys have been in the business 30 years and are still waiting for their names to be mentioned at the Grammys, and `You guys get mentioned on your first release,"' reminisces Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment. As executives from the album's Concord Music Group accepted trophy after trophy, they thanked Starbucks, the No. 1 distributor of the album. "It has been a wonderful experience for us," adds Mr. Lombard, 50. "We saw a tremendous opportunity to transform how music is discovered and delivered. We had to show the industry that our distribution channel was an option ."

He credits Concord Records co-owner Hal Gaba and President-CEO Glen Barros for their early discussions with Starbucks to create a concept that fit both companies' needs.

"They realized early on that we could be a tremendous asset that could help the industry solve a lot of its problems," says Mr. Lombard, who joined Starbucks in May 2004 from a post as president of Johnson Development Corp./Magic Johnson Theaters and co-managing partner of the Canyon Johnson Urban Fund. While there, he negotiated joint ventures with Starbucks, and Loews Cineplex Entertainment. He notes that Concord "teed up" a lot of projects until they found the right one. Concord handled the music, while Starbucks ensured distribution and promotion throughout its 4,500 various stores. Starbucks provided point-of-purchase displays, overhead airplay, promotion on its WiFi, mobile and satellite programming as well as a three-month DVD promotion with Loews. Starbucks alone sold more than 720,000 CDs.

For any remaining skeptics in the music industry, the triumphant Grammy moment blew the doors open for other artists who lit up Starbucks phone lines wanting to be the next collaborator.