Succession: The Craigie Zildjian Interview

Craigie Zildjian,  circa 1980. The man in the portrait is her Grandfather Avedis Zildjian.

Craigie Zildjian, circa 1980. The man in the portrait is her Grandfather Avedis Zildjian.



Words by Tom Hoare

I looked at Paul. Paul smiled back. I was annoying him. I could tell. 

In all fairness, Paul Francis, Zildjian’s Director of R&D, handled it pretty well. For over an hour he walked me round the factory floor, cheerily explaining each stage in the process of cymbal manufacture. It was such a thorough briefing that, whenever Paul stopped speaking, I only ever had one question: “can I photograph that?”

“No,” was Paul’s reply. Whether it was shouted over the sound of hammering or whispered in the silence of the vaults, I asked him this question again and again. There were a couple of occasions where he drew breath, contemplating my monotonous request. I was hopeful. “No. Sorry.”

As we returned to the factory entrance, Paul still seemed upbeat, removing his safety glasses beneath a huge sign I hadn’t noticed on the way in: “Absolutely No Cameras.” “You can take a photograph of that if you like,” he grins. I couldn’t help but laugh. 

After a brief panic where I thought I’d broken the coffee machine in the staff room, I’m introduced to Craigie, the company’s CEO. She’s sat at her desk which is piled high with papers. “Paul mentioned that you might want to take a few photos,” she smiles, transferring piles of paper into a cabinet, “so we might as well neaten the place up a bit. What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

Craigie's father Armand Zildjian in the vault with Rabb Zildjian.

Craigie's father Armand Zildjian in the vault with Rabb Zildjian.

The Drummer’s Journal: As your Father was Armand Zildjian, you must have grown up around some of the world’s most iconic drummers?

Craigie Zildjian: Yes. That was something I was totally used to. Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich were family friends. To be able to go to Max Roach’s birthday parties was great.

Did Max Roach know how to throw a good  birthday party?

Yeah, he sure did. I remember going to one and Malcolm X’s daughter was there. I treasure having those memories, for sure. 

When you were younger, what did you want to do? Did you solely have aspirations to work for the family business?

Well, that wasn’t encouraged initially so it wasn’t something I expected to happen. 

When you say it wasn’t encouraged, what do you mean?

It was the male members of the family who had those expectations. My sister Debbie and I – we never did.

What was your first ever job?

I worked in education. I’ve got a Master’s in Education from Boston University. Then, when I came out of college, I worked in a prison. 

In a prison? In what respect?

In essence, everyone who works in prison is a correctional officer, but I didn’t stay there long. It was tough. It’s breaking up fights and things. But it certainly prepared me for business (laughs).

And you’ve also got an MBA?

Well, I didn’t actually finish my MBA (laughs). I had my daughter then that took over. So I have half an MBA. But that has still been very valuable, I learned a lot.

How did you get started at the company? 

Back in the 1970s, it was very different for women in terms of the jobs you were expected to hold. Women were secretaries. But that period, when I was in college, was also big time for women’s lib. In terms of women in the workplace, it was like, “why should I hire you as a women when you’re taking a job away from a man that needs to support his family?” Luckily, my grandfather, Avedis Zildjian, was very supportive. Without his encouragement, I don’t think I would have made it.

What do you think instigated that change in attitude?

I think he wanted to see that next generation of the family come into the business. So I was brought in as Personnel Manager, which I thought was great. This was 1976. 

So that would mean you were in your mid- twenties?


At the time, were you absolutely sure that it was what you wanted to do?

Yes, for the most part. But I didn’t ever expect that I’d end up in a leadership position – absolutely not.

With it being a family business, to what extent was your work driven by a personal and not just a career-based motivation?

From a personal standpoint, I’m very proud of what the family has done. We’re the oldest business in the music industry and one of the oldest family businesses in America.

In the UK, there’s been a big resurgence in genealogy…

That’s hard to do if you’re from Turkey though. Istanbul was closed off from the rest of the world  for a long time, and we’re a non-Muslim family, which makes it harder to go back into the records. We’ve tried and there are little bits here and there but there’s no clear record beyond a certain point. 

To what extent do you feel connected to your Armenian and Turkish heritage?

Ultimately, my grandfather ended up coming to America because, when he was 20, he was faced with the prospect of being conscripted into the Turkish army. There was a lot of religious tension in that part of the world at that time, a lot of conflict. This was his way out...


Continue reading right where you left off  - for free - in Issue Nine of The Drummer's Journal, which is available right HERE.