In getting Barry Weiss and keeping fellow rainmaker L.A. Reid, Grainge has scored a major coup just a few months into his new job.

I.B. BAD ON THE YEAR IN MUSIC:
THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD

After Putting UMG in the Capable Hands of His Protégé, Lucian Grainge, Doug Morris Contemplates a New Challenge
Beginning today, we roll out the biggest stories of 2010, another wild and challenging year. In the first installment, our in-house pundit breaks down a still-unfolding situation involving the movement of top-level executive talent at the two biggest music groups.

Insiders at both UMG and Sony Music are now claiming that the Doug Morris-to-Sony deal is a fait accompli, the only remaining issue being when he’ll start his new job. Presumably, Sony will eventually be moving forward under the leadership of the single most successful CEO in the last 20 years of the business, a remarkably savvy and collegial record man who managed to build the most dominant worldwide music company of all time.

For the first time since Sony and BMG merged in 2003, the company will be overseen by a music business insider who understands how the game is played, in sharp contrast to the undistinguished reigns of Rolf Schmidt-Holtz and Andy Lack. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that non-music business CEOs are inevitably, without exception, doomed to fail.

Morris leaves UMG in the extremely capable hands of another astute and experienced record man in Lucian Grainge, his handpicked successor, who recently lured RMG/JLG chief Barry Weiss to become a key part of Universal’s East Coast operations, the prevailing belief being that he’ll oversee the revamped entity, which now consists of IDJ, Universal Republic and Universal Motown. In getting Weiss (whose Sony contract runs through next March) and keeping fellow rainmaker L.A. Reid, Grainge has scored a major coup just a few months into his new job.

These decisive moves substantiate Morris’ absolute faith in Grainge when he chose and mentored the veteran English executive, but they’re also very much commensurate with the aggressive approach Grainge consistently displayed in his previous jobs as head of UMG’s U.K. and international operations. Throughout, he’s performed at a consistently high level, conducting one of the most fruitful business relationships of the modern era with his mentor.

Weiss’ departure leaves a key vacancy, leading to the question, who will head up RCA/Jive? This is but one of numerous questions involving the Sony hierarchy and infrastructure. What role will Clive Davis play? What will happen with Epic, and will the label continue to exist? What part will Jay-Z’s Roc Nation have in Sony’s future? Will any or all of these issues be resolved before Morris’ expected arrival? And will he be released from his UMG contract before it expires at the end of 2011?

When all is said and done, the two biggest music companies—comprising around 60% of the U.S. market between them—will be in the capable hands of a pair of smart guys who get it. Will they be able to work together to try and find ways to help turn around the misfortunes of an industry in a tailspin? Morris and Grainge, with their complementary but contrasting management styles, could conceivably pull off such a feat.

According to those in the know, Morris gives his top executives the autonomy to run their companies as they see fit, whereas Grainge has exhibited more control and greater discipline. And while Morris’ nature encourages marketshare, Grainge’s character leads to profitability, as he faces the daunting task of cutting the fat but leaving the muscle.

Now, Grainge is getting a well-deserved opportunity to put his own stamp on the world’s biggest music company, while Morris is poised to write yet another chapter in his one-of-a-kind career.

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