Interview by Simon Glickman

Jon Platt is, in more ways than one, the man of the hour. The Warner/Chappell boss is due to begin his next chapter next year by stepping into the top job at Sony/ATV, in what has become one of the most important music stories of the year. More immediately, he’ll be the star attraction at the forthcoming City of Hope honors, during which he’ll be presented with the Spirit of Life Award by longtime friend and associate Jay-Z. Hosted by Pharrell, with performers including Beyoncé, the event is a hot ticket among music-biz dignitaries and is expected to raise a hefty sum for COH’s vital research and treatment work. Amazingly, he will become the first music publisher to add this award to his accolades.

But the Jon Platt moment is, pardon the expression, bigger than that. It’s a reflection of an evolving music business, as this executive has demonstrated a commitment to expanding diversity and opportunity in every way possible.

At the same time, his career trajectory is a classic example of how a passion for music and a focus on "what’s possible rather than what’s impossible” (to borrow his phrase) can yield enormous rewards. We sat down with him and dove into that story.

Let’s start with the City of Hope honor and event, and what all this means all for you.
It means a lot to me. When the call came through that I was selected to be the honoree, I wanted to learn more about the Spirit of Life Award, even though I go to the event every year. I already had an idea of what an incredible place City of Hope is. So, I asked them to send me information on the past ten honorees. What they sent me was the entire list of honorees for the past 45 years. It’s an impressive list of people, many of whom I look up to and who have inspired me. But it’s also a very real and direct reflection of who’s been leading the music business for the past half century, so the lack of diversity jumps out at you.

Part of my thought process was, “I believe our industry should be more inclusive, and I’m passionate about everybody being given an opportunity. If those things are truly important to me, then I can’t turn away when someone is extending their hand to me.” I don’t view this as City of Hope just recognizing me – I would like this to be a celebration of the culture which has supported and nurtured me. It will be a chance for me to thank some people that have helped me and so many others. Above all, it’s a chance to show a new generation what’s possible. I have great respect for people like Justin Tranter, who have used their success to advocate on behalf of an entire community.

You’ve talked too about how this cause is “both personal and universal”—what did you mean by that?
Many people I know have been affected by these diseases. Recently, I lost two very close friends to cancer and, prior to that, my father-in-law. City of Hope is best known as a cancer research center, but what people might not realize is that they’re also trying to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes, which my son has. That gave me the deep emotional connection that I needed. Because if I’m going to do something like this, I’ve got to be all in—or I’d rather just not do it.

When we went on the tour of City of Hope, that’s when it really hit home for me: “This is where the real work happens, and that’s what this is all about.” City of Hope doesn’t feel like a hospital. It feels like a home. The patients are being treated with such incredible care; many of them have this look of serenity on their faces.

I’m a detail-oriented person and it’s the smaller things I look for. When I go to a meeting at a company, I get a sense of the culture immediately, just from the receptionist and how she greets people. My point is that the culture and philosophy at City of Hope really resonated with me. Their core values line up with mine—putting others before yourself—and they do it in a very meaningful way.

The testimony I’ve heard from people about the experience is that there is something much more holistic, more humanistic and much more about life than what most people experience in the health-care system.
City of Hope is a place that focuses on the possible, versus the impossible. I see that parallel in our business. When someone brings you a songwriter, a song, an artist, or even just idea, there are times when you know too much for your own good. You know every reason why something won’t work, instead of focusing on how it can work. At times, all you need is a 1% chance, and if you just focus on that, you have the possibility of making something special happen. City of Hope are laser-focused on what’s possible, and that’s how they solve the impossible. I love that about them.

In what ways do you feel the event that’s coming up is an opportunity to raise awareness about the diversity questions we’ve been talking about, and also to broaden people’s conception of City of Hope beyond the yearly schmooze?
We have an opportunity to do that on October 11; to bring everyone together and learn more about City of Hope. People are paying a lot of money to get into that room. Together, we can make a difference, contribute to life-changing research, and enjoy an unforgettable evening at the same time.

When I agreed to do this, we put an amazing team in place, with the help of my executive assistant, Jackie Petri. I promise you it’s going to be an unforgettable night. It is important to me that the evening is black tie. I didn’t want an event where you can just grab a jacket off the back of your office door and roll in wearing jeans and a sport coat. I want everyone to see us all at our best.

When I heard it was black tie, I thought about how elegant this could be.
You’re right. That’s exactly the element that I wanted. It’s also key that City of Hope is respected in the way that it should be. It’s a high-class organization.

I don’t often ask for favors. However, with an event like this, there’s no way I could do it alone. I have some amazing friends and I’ve been humbled by how they’ve responded to the call. Pharrell, Jay and Beyoncé all said “yes” very quickly—they all saw immediately what a truly great cause this is. I’m also very thankful that Mary Mary will perform at the event too. They are songwriters I signed more than 20 years ago and they have turned into one of the biggest gospel groups in the world.

This is a moment where I can express gratitude for my journey. Take Jay, for example; I’ve worked with him for over 20 years, since his first album. He’s so important to my life that I wouldn’t have done this if he couldn’t be there with me. Because there’s no me without him. Out of everybody that I work with, if there is a single person who defines me, it’s him.

Read Part 2 here.

Middle photo: At the kickoff breakfast for Platt's City of Hope campaign, cancer survivor and self-described "living miracle" Kommah McDowell joins Platt, his wife, Angie, and UMPG Chairman Jody Gerson.

Fire up the grill. (5/28a)
Ladies' choice (5/24a)
Each worth a thousand words (5/27a)
A game of Monopoly on Capitol Hill (5/24a)
Redrawing the Mason-Dixon Line (5/24a)
Gosh, we hope there are more press releases.
Unless the Senate manages to make this whole thing go away, that is.
No, not that one.
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