Sarah Hollandsworth is Director of Sales & Marketing at the J.L. Smith Group. She holds a MM in Flute Performance from the University of Miami, Frost School of Music where she studied under Trudy Kane, and a BM in Flute Performance from the University of NC School of the Arts where she was a student of Tadeu Coelho and Philip Dunigan. Sarah currently serves on the NFA Board of Directors and is an active member of NAMM.
How did you first become involved with Flute World? Tell us the whole story!
Like so many flutists, my first experience with Flute World was as a customer. I remember the catalog arriving in the mail as a young student, and later spending hours on fluteworld.com ordering all of my repertoire. Flute World has been an invaluable resource throughout my musical journey. It is now my privilege to lead this amazing team of people who serve flutists in such a remarkable way.
The path to where I am today has been a winding one, and I have many people to thank for the opportunities they’ve provided me along the way. I’ve been fortunate to blend my love of music and the flute with my interests and abilities in business and leadership. As Director of Sales & Marketing at the J.L. Smith Group, I lead the retail division of the company, a large part of which is Flute World.
I joined the flute industry in 2007 as a flute sales specialist at J.L. Smith & Co. in Charlotte, NC. J.L. Smith was then a small, but multi-faceted company founded by Jeff Smith in 1991. In addition to offering a curated selection fine flutes, piccolos, and headjoints, the company was (and still is) known for industry-leading repair services and the innovative design and manufacturing of tools, parts, and pads that are used by instrument makers and technicians worldwide. At the time, J.L. Smith and Flute World were friendly competitors.
While working at J.L. Smith, I continued to gig, taught lessons, and took auditions. At the same time, I grew increasingly interested in the industry. My competitive nature made sales a natural fit and I was energized by the connection to the flute community. I worked directly with flutists guiding them to instruments that would elevate their experience of making music.
In 2009, I left the business to pursue a MM in Flute Performance at the University of Miami with Trudy Kane. During my time at UM I grew tremendously as a flutist. One of the most valuable lessons I learned during that period was to trust myself and my intuition – as both a musician and a human. By the time I completed that degree, my intuition was telling me that my place was in the music industry.
Serendipitously, I was given the opportunity to return to J.L. Smith in early 2012 as Director of Flute Sales. I continued my work matching musicians to exceptional equipment and experienced for the first time what it means to manage and to lead. As someone with two degrees in flute and zero degrees in business, I had (and continue to have) much to learn about effective leadership. It’s a lifelong pursuit.
At the Chicago Flute Festival in 2013, the prior owner of Flute World, Shaul Ben-Meir, approached me to express his interest in J.L. Smith purchasing his company. In that conversation, I saw an extraordinary opportunity for our business and after nearly two years of discussions, we purchased Flute World in June of 2015.
As you can imagine, this was a very big deal in the industry and a significant development for our organization. Since its founding in 1983, Flute World gave rise to the genre of the flute specialty shop. Located in a suburb of Detroit, Flute World is known for its extensive library of flute repertoire as well as accessories, recordings, and extraordinary instruments.
The addition of Flute World to our organization has given us a platform to serve flutists in a more impactful way. In December of 2018, we opened a new location in San Francisco bringing the Flute World community to the west coast. The big question is - what city are we coming to next?!
I’m extremely grateful to be part of a team of people who are committed to constantly raising the bar and to giving back to the musical communities that we serve.
Can you give us some career highlights? Can you share a recent career highlight?
In January of this year, I was chosen as one of 16 women leaders in the music products industry to attend the Smart Women in Music (SWIM) Leadership Summit at the NAMM headquarters in Carlsbad, CA. For those of you not familiar with NAMM, it is the National Association of Music Merchants.
The SWIM fund is an initiative created by the NAMM Foundation in 2018 to expand diversity, inclusion and support for women in the music products industry. Its mission is to cultivate a future where at least 10% (currently 2.2%) of the CEO roles and 50% of C-suite positions are held by women in the music industry.
The SWIM Summit was a 2.5-day immersive leadership program that focused on dialing in our strengths so as to better serve others and understand the impact we have on those around us. We learned effective models for giving and receiving feedback, improved our skills in communication and influence, practiced shifting mindsets and increasing resilience, and created actionable goals to move us forward in our careers. This was an incredible opportunity to expand my network of creative, powerful, brilliant women influencers in this business.
Support structures are critical to successful leadership, and SWIM is an invaluable resource for emerging female leadership in our industry.
What are your goals professionally?
To keep expanding! I want to bring Flute World to more people around the world. A clear vision and a team of people who see possibility in themselves, their peers, and the organization is a magical (and unstoppable!) combination.
I’m also passionately committed to continuing my growth as a leader. To me, a significant aspect of leadership is creating space where others can see what’s possible for themselves. Each of us has a view of the world and how we fit in. Experiences throughout our lives build stories about who we believe we are and are not. Empowering people to see outside of those contexts is truly impactful. In turn, those individuals are able to see what's possible for the organization and for themselves as a part something bigger.
What are your goals personally?
To stay out of my comfort zone as much as possible - take risks, try new things. At the same time, I’m working toward more ease and flow.
I’d like to travel more (for leisure) with my talented and handsome husband, Jeff Smith (yes, as in J.L. Smith).
In all of my spare time (haha), I’m a Life Coach! I partner with clients to push past where they typically get stuck or stop, support their growth, and keep their projects moving forward.
What inspires you the most in life?
- Seeing people do things they didn’t think were possible.
- People who are catalysts for big change.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Self-doubt. It’s such a waste of time, and yet for musicians, it is a universal struggle. I have certainly been no different!
What does your schedule look like for the next 6 months?
Unknown! COVID-19 has cleared all of our calendars for the foreseeable future. I’m grateful that my family, friends, and colleagues are all safe and healthy. My heart goes out to everyone who has been impacted by this terrible disease.
Who were your music mentors, and what did you learn from them?
Philip Dunigan – discipline, approach, historical context.
Tadeu Coelho – technique, memorization.
Trudy Kane – fundamentals, vibrato, musicality, self-confidence.
Can you share 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions?
- Pugs! I have two – Lucy and Lola.
- Pop music. I’ve been a member of the Dave Matthews Band Fan Club since 1998.
- Travel – always happier near the ocean!
What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?
- Try not to compare yourself to others. You are your own yardstick.
- Being a flutist can mean many different things; don’t feel boxed into one career path. Pave your own way!
- Look for opportunities to be a stand for someone else’s greatness. Support your fellow musicians; we are all stronger together.