What Gene Simmons can teach business

Can Gene Simmons - frontman of legendary American rock group Kiss - teach Britain how to resurrect its economy? The London Business School certainly thinks so.

Is Gene Simmons the man to give our economy the kiss of life? asks The Independent. London Business School seems to think so. Last week it invited the fire-breathing, blood-spitting Kiss frontman to lecture MBA students on how to build a $1bn brand, selling everything from condoms to coffins ("we'll get you coming and we'll get you going") while finding time to sleep with 4,800 groupies.

Under Simmons' "ruthless leadership", the 1970s shock-rockers, famed for their live shows, pioneered the notion of the band as a brand. When Simmons, 61, isn't flicking his seven-inch tongue at audiences, you'll find him hard at work on his spreadsheets, masterminding 3,000 licences, a new coffeehouse chain, two reality shows and numerous other ventures (see below). Performing is just the night job. Simmons is unapologetic about his priorities. "Music, marriage and religion, it's all a business," he says. In a 2008 interview with Businessweek, he observed: "Rockers are idiots."

That cynical outlook is evident, some say, in Kiss's output. The band's lyrics "are up there with some of the most gonzoid", says one heavy-rock aficionado. The one time Kiss got serious ditching the make-up and producing a concept album they crashed and burned. "So it was back to Plan A: reclaim the trash, as that's what coined it for them." Outsiders may find Kiss's longevity and fans' willingness to mortgage themselves for the latest merchandise mystifying. But Simmons is a class act at retaining the loyalty of a fan base now into its third generation (hence the growth business in Kiss Kaskets and funeral urns). "Americana has always been about imagery, often above content," he told Rolling Stone in 1999. "Kiss is very all-American, in the sense that our constituency has never had anything in common with critics."

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Born Chaim Witz in Israel, Simmons arrived in Brooklyn with his mother as an eight year-old and has been practising his version of the American Dream ever since. "The best school is the street," he says. It was The Beatles who made him want to be in a band. Renaming himself after rockabilly singer Jumpin' Gene Simmons, he learned bass guitar and formed the forerunner to Kiss, Wicked Lester, in 1970. It was only when the band gave itself a new look, inspired by Simmons' love of comic-books, that Kiss emerged in its full gruesome glory.

Their first gig, at the Popcorn Club in Queens, drew an audience of three. But Simmons, who took fire-breathing lessons and dragged the band on non-stop tours, has never been a quitter. "I fail all the time. It means nothing," he told Businessweek. "In the 1929 stockmarket crash, people jumped out of buildings, although they were healthy and could [make money] again. My mother survived the Nazis and taught me an ideal: if you're alive, you've won, no matter what'."

Dr Demon humbled by an Anonymous attack

Gene Simmon's business ventures are going great guns: he's the force behind Simmons Records and Simmons Abramson Marketing. In a recent coup they pulled off a slightly disturbing marketing tie-up between Kiss and Hello Kitty.

Meanwhile, "Dr Demon's" own wild sex life has long since settled down. He's been living with the former Playboy playmate, Shannon Tweed, since the mid-eighties (they have a son and daughter) and last month finally tied the knot. It's all good grist to the money-mill, says The Independent. Not only is Shannon just as hot as Gene when it comes to saving cash she sends him texts reminding him to turn off his data roaming but she also plays a starring role in the hit reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels. Want to see husband and wife getting cosmetic surgery together? Tune in.

Simmons, who advocates the abolition of the welfare state in favour of compulsory workfare, is renowned for his uncompromising views. If you really want to get Simmons ranting, there's no better subject than illegal music downloading, says The Guardian. Last year, two of his sites SimmonsRecords.com and GeneSimmons.com were targeted by hackers from the Anonymous group, in reprisal for his rallying cry to musicians to be far more aggressive in pursuit of illegal filesharers. When Simmons threatened to hunt the hackers down, "sue their pants off" and put "their little butts in jail, right next to someone who's been there for years and is looking for a new girlfriend", an all-out war loomed. However, after tallying up his losses from the outages, he seems to have decided that discretion is the better part of valour. "I think they mean well," he says now. They're just "misdirected".