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Keith Mardak and Larry Morton.

Mardak Retires From Hal Leonard,
Morton New CEO

After five decades at the helm, Mardak steps down in a seamless management transition, will remain as board chair.

KEITH MARDAK, who built Hal Leonard Corporation into the world’s largest print publisher over the past five decades, is passing his CEO responsibilities to Larry Morton in a seamless managerial transition. Morton has been Hal Leonard president since 1999. Mardak will remain with Hal Leonard as chairman of the board.

A gifted accordionist, Mardak got his start in the music industry as a teacher at a Milwaukee accordion school. His first full-time job was as an industrial draftsman, but in 1963 he was lured back to the music industry by Zeb Billings to become an organ teacher. In 1965, Billings, who had a thriving piano and organ retail business in Milwaukee, recruited Mardak to develop a teaching method for home organs for Sight & Sound, his fledgling publishing business. Sight & Sound methods were overwhelmingly successful and contributed to the growth of the home organ business in the 1960s and '70s.

In 1970, Mardak established Learning Unlimited as a joint venture with Hal Leonard Publishing to develop instructional methods for the home organ and school music markets. Hal Leonard’s revenues that year were $960,000. Two years later, the sales of Learning Unlimited products outsold the entire Hal Leonard catalog. By 1985, when Mardak purchased Hal Leonard from its founders, revenue had topped $16 million.

Under Mardak’s leadership, Hal Leonard has become a worldwide leader in educational methods and repertoire. In addition to its own catalog, which includes the Hal Leonard Guitar Method and Essential Elements Band and Strings Methods, the company is a major publisher of popular music through agreements with the Beatles, Disney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and hundreds more. Hal Leonard’s portfolio also includes G. Schirmer, Rubank, Willis Piano, Shawnee Press, Music Sales, Noteflight, and Groove3. Hal Leonard sales have now grown to over $250 million. The company has offices in Australia, England, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, employing 800.

To ensure the stability of Hal Leonard, Mardak engineered the sale of the company to Seidler Equity Partners in 2016. The transaction was preceded by an extensive vetting process of several potential buyers. Mardak said, “I wasn’t going to sell to someone who wanted to flip the business short term. I wanted a long-term partner willing to make investments.” Seidler Partners has since shown its willingness to invest, greenlighting Hal Leonard’s $50 million acquisition of Music Sales last year.

Mardak stated, “I am proud of the work I’ve done with Hal Leonard and happy that I’ve been able to spend the majority of my days working in the music industry. Over the years I’ve had the honor of working with amazing people with the common goal of sharing the joy of making music. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

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