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I.B. BAD: DOUG'S THIRD ACT AND ENCORE

Doug Morris is stepping down at the pinnacle of his long and distinguished career, having breathed new life into Sony Music, which was a country divided when he took charge a half decade ago. At the time, the political infighting between the Rob Stringer-Steve Barnett Sony faction and the Barry Weiss-led BMG faction was so bad that Barnett and Weiss’ hatchet man Ivan Gavin nearly came to blows at the 2011 Grammys. Meanwhile, the fog from the Amanda Ghost and Rick Rubin appointments were hanging over the company. The blood was so bad it had spilled out in the press to a DEFCON 5 level. Wasting no time, Morris galvanized Sony’s warring cultures, and under his leadership the splintered company was transformed into a cohesive machine that is currently competing at the highest level. He’s passing the torch to Stringer, his long-rumored successor, whom he’s been mentoring for the last few years. Morris isn’t alone in viewing Stringer as the most accomplished executive since Jimmy Iovine.

In 2010, when Vivendi announced that Lucian Grainge would succeed Morris as UMG Chairman/CEO, then-Sony Corp. ruler Sir Howard Stringer and U.S. chief Michael Lynton had jumped at the chance to bring in the legendary still-vital record man to lead Sony Music, replacing Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, the music group’s second straight ineffectual chief, following Andy Lack. Once Morris finally took charge of the company, Sony Music soon began firing on all cylinders, growing profitability and marketshare while empowering his carefully chosen lieutenants, with the Peter Edge/Tom Corson tandem at RCA and the newly hired L.A. Reid at Epic joining Columbia co-Chairmen Stringer and Barnett. In 2014, Morris revamped Sony’s U.K. company in decisive fashion, replacing Nick Gatfield with Jason Iley, who wasted no time making the company competitive once again. A year later, the savvy Sony ruler duplicated this feat, tapping Randy Goodman and his team to begin the job of revitalizing moribund Sony Music Nashville, which they proceeded to do.

As a result of these and other similarly shrewd moves, Morris is passing the torch to Stringer with the company in excellent shape—far better than five years ago. He’s expected to continue in this emeritus role for two or three more years, possibly longer, depending on his desire to continue contributing to the company’s well-being.

Now that Sony Music is in Stringer’s hands, what moves will he make as he begins to put his stamp on the music group. Where do Edge/Corson, Reid and Epic President Sylvia Rhone fit into the big picture moving forward? What lies in store for international head Edgar Berger, who was given this important job soon after Morris’ arrival? And who will Stringer choose to succeed him as Columbia topper? Will he tap another Brit in the Sony system such as Iley or outgoing SYCO President Sonny Takhar, who’d been expected to launch an L.A.-based company along similar lines as SYCO? Or will he look at the competition for a suitable candidate? Could Adele manager Jonathan Dickins, Atlantic Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman or Warner U.K. chief Max Lousada be on his list? Two other top execs with ties to the Morris/Stringer regime are also supposedly in the mix.

No matter whom he chooses, Stringer’s impact on that label will be profound for the foreseeable future in that he hired most of Columbia’s current executives and has deep relationships with the key acts on the roster. Stringer has done a superlative job leading Columbia to its present dominant
state, starting with those his artist relationships and his signing prowess—including inking Adele to a worldwide long-term direct deal. Stringer’s
decisive move in hiring Joel Klaiman away from Republic—made possible when Weiss and Gavin, then overseeing UMG’s East Coast operations, sat on Klaiman’s Republic contract renewal—gave Columbia a top pro in the marketing/promotion arena.

Some are comparing the Morris-to-Stringer handoff to the events of a half decade ago at UMG, when Grainge succeeded Morris as the company’s Chairman/CEO. Soon after Grainge assumed his newpost on Jan. 1, 2011, he began making changes to Morris’ executive team, while moving Universal’s headquarters from New York to Santa Monica.

Morris and Stringer have an extremely strong relationship personally as well as businesswise. Stringer claims to have learned a great deal from Morris during their end-of-day office chats, and that knowledge has helped him make Columbia the most successful label since Interscope’s peak years under Iovine, another Morris protégé. When the book on Morris is written, it will surely focus on his mentoring of the top music execs of the modern era, which has contributed significantly to the performances of all three of the major companies of today.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Donnie Ienner, Tommy Mottola, Walter Yetnikoff, Bruce Lundvall and Dick Asher.

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