Universal Music Group
Chieftain of the Largest Major-Label Group...
After flattening the competition in Europe, then-Universal Music Group International chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge was anointed in 2010 by Vivendi as the eventual successor of UMG chairman/CEO Doug Morris (see No. 5). Before he arrived on the main stage, one executive familiar with Grainge predicted to Billboard that he "will eat everyone's lunch." Among his first moves as head of UMG was offering Antonio "L.A." Reid (No. 37) and Sylvia Rhone deals that they could turn down--and did. In another bold stroke, he stole RCA/Jive Label Group chairman/CEO Barry Weiss (No. 18) away from Sony Music Entertainment just two weeks after Sony had announced Morris as its new CEO.
While Grainge has been charged with cutting 100 million euros ($130 million) in overhead, he said in a December announcement about the hiring of David Foster as Verve Music Group chairman that "we are committed to expanding our A&R investment in all areas of music on a global basis." In moves that appear to back up those words, UMG tapped Ethiopia Habtemariam to head Motown Records, keeping the legendary imprint alive, and appointed Blueprint Group co-CEO Gee Roberson (No. 59) chairman of Geffen Records. And sources say UMG still is negotiating the launch of a possible imprint with former Warner Bros. Records chief Tom Whalley, which would go through Universal Republic. In another sign that the Grainge era won't be just about cutting back: Interscope signed Madonna in December to a three-album deal. Grainge surprised many market watchers by winning the auction for EMI's recorded-music operations, something that many predicted UMG wouldn't even bother to chase. Once the EMI deal closes, UMG will have more than a third of the U.S. recorded-music market, with a roster that joins Katy Perry, Coldplay and Lady Antebellum with UMG acts like Lady Gaga (No. 84), Drake, Rihanna, Kanye West, U2 (No. 27) and Justin Bieber. UMG will also boast a deep catalog that will house the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Who and classic Motown under one roof.
"For those keeping score by market share, Universal has won in a big way," a senior label executive says. "Sony may have been challenging Universal this year in the U.S., but that's done-case closed." The deal is still under regulatory scrutiny, but if Grainge is willing to take on regulators, there's no telling whose lunch he'll try to eat next.
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