NEW YORK (CNNfn) - One of the few flute-playing rockers in the world, Ian Anderson is best known for his flamboyant live acts as leader of the British band Jethro Tull. But there's more to Anderson than just rock 'n roll.
A successful entrepreneur, Anderson has turned an unusual side interest -- fish farming -- into a prosperous business that currently employs 400 people.
Early on in his musical career, Anderson sought additional income to support his country house in the Scottish islands. He decided to invest in salmon-farming, an industry in its infancy at the time.
Like his music, Anderson's company strays from the mainstream. He founded his fish farming business on the Isle of Skye, where it has grown and prospered for the last 20 years. Today, Anderson's company, Strathaird, is the largest independent smoked salmon firm in the United Kingdom.
Anderson said he has been able to transfer his skills as a band leader to his salmon business.
"It's not a million miles away from rock and roll," said Anderson. "There's a little bit of theatricality about it, too." (261K AIFF) or (261K WAV)
Salmon farming is a complex, time-consuming business. At a hatchery, the salmon eggs are nurtured in freshwater tanks. About 15 months after they hatch, the salmon are transferred to pens immersed in a saltwater loch, or sea inlet. There, the fish are hand-fed for two years. When they are about eight pounds in weight, the salmon are ready for harvest. At a processing facility in Inverness, the fish are gutted, filleted, salted to remove the moisture from the flesh, and smoked for up to 10 hours.
Last year, privately held Strathaird had revenues of $26 million, and turned out 900 tons of smoked salmon.
"The economy in Europe is just coming out of recession. It's been a bit behind Britain and America. And we see it
over the next year or so picking up quite well. So hopefully we will be on the back of that upturn in the economy," said Phillip Thorn, chief executive of Strathaird.
The salmon industry is a seasonal business, with about 25 percent of sales coming during the Christmas period.
"One of the things that makes it just like rock 'n roll [is it is] quite a difficult business to budget for," said Anderson. (142K AIFF) or (142K WAV)
Ian Robertson, head of the local development agency, says Anderson is considered a pioneer in the industry.
"What we've got is a guy who has shown leadership in another industry who's come to our area, fallen in love with the area, and been prepared to invest in it," said Ian Robertson.
Robertson said the rock star showed leadership at a time when fish farming was a new idea.
"It's a good feeling that you've been part of the gentle and considerate repopulation of these rural areas, as well as creating the employment opportunities for the local kids to leave school and get a proper job," said Anderson.
Anderson won't use his rocker fame to promote his salmon business.
"If I was in America, it would be permissible and, indeed, even expected to do that. But on this side of the Atlantic, it's considered just a teeny-weeny bit tacky," said Anderson.
Strathaird's marketing manager does not agree.
"I do think Ian's an underutilized marketing resource in this business. He has a far higher brand recognition than Strathaird the brand does. And there are certain markets where Ian is quite well known," said Alastair Kendall.
Anderson is now working on a new album with Jethro Tull. Over the last three decades, the band has recorded 30 studio albums, grossing more than $800 million. Anderson is the only original member left. He picked up playing the flute only when he noticed that another band member was a better guitarist than he was. But Anderson's hard-blowing power and showmanship became Jethro Tull's signature.
"(The flute is) an instrument that doesn't lend itself very readily to rock music. It's a gentle and sensitive instrument. To make it work at rock 'n roll levels, you really have to push it pretty hard," said Anderson.
Anderson says the key to his success is a light-hearted approach.
"I'm not an expert in anything. I like to have fun with it. But at the same time it's fun with a responsibility -- whether it's being a family man, an employer or just the guy who wakes the birds up every morning with my flute."