With no board to answer to, he’s able to place big bets on Parlophone and across the streaming market
Few other music kingpins can count an ownership stake in a chemical refinery among their business interests. But along with Warner Music Group—the world’s third-largest music company—Len Blavatnik owns Access Industries, which has stakes in LyondellBasell, a Netherlands-based refining business with a market value of $64 billion, and Clal Industries, an Israeli holding company valued at $2.6 billion.
Yet with his personal fortune and ownership of WMG—the only stand-alone major music company—Blavatnik may have more individual control than anyone else in the music biz. Because he doesn’t answer to shareholders—although investors do hold Warner debt—or a corporate parent, Blavatnik is able to reshape Warner behind a wall of privacy and without the pressures of quarterly earnings targets.
The Blavatnik footprint grew bigger in 2013 when Warner acquired Parlophone Label Group. The $765 million deal stemmed from the European Union’s requirement that UMG unload some assets to win approval of its EMI Music acquistion. Some felt he overpaid for Parlophone, especially given that UMG had carved out Parlophone’s most valuable asset: the Beatles. But Blavatnik sees the big picture, according to those close to him, and even when his advisers were uncertain of raising their bid, once he made up his mind to buy Parlophone there was never any doubt.
Blavatnik, who is known for his reticence with the press, has also made significant bets on the future of the music business. In 2012, Access invested $130 million in music subscription service Deezer. Based in France, Deezer is second only to Spotify worldwide. But why bet on one horse when you can bet on two? Last year, Access put $60 million into the recently launched Beats Music. With Deezer and Beats Music the two most likely candidates to rival Spotify, Blavatnik is well-positioned to capitalize on the market’s shift to streaming. And given WMG’s small equity stake in Spotify, Blavatnik could be hugely influential in how the fledgling market shapes up.
Though a private man, Blavatnik is said to enjoy the profile associated with owning a major media company. He’s now widely seen within the music industry as a long-term owner.