As Doug Morris neared 70, he was pushed out of his chairmanship of Universal Music Group, thought to be too old to run a digital-age entertainment company. He's now 76, and as chairman of Sony Music Entertainment, he grew annual profits for the world's second-biggest record group by an estimated 70 percent. Take that, haters.
After presiding over the most successful merger in the music industry's history, when UMG and PolyGram came together in 1998, Morris was installed as CEO of SME in July 2011, giving him the chance to prove that his UMG reign was no fluke. At SME, Morris has transformed a dysfunctional company, created by the merger of Sony and BMG, into a cohesive team with a sound corporate culture working together to discover new hitmakers.
In 2014, says Morris, "Sony came together in a big way in terms of stability, culture and accomplishment. We finished the year with nine of the top 15 albums and 11 of the top 20 in the U.K." Sony Corp. doesn't break out SME's financials, but Billboard estimates that Morris has grown SME's earnings to $375 million on revenue of about $3 billion in its most recent fiscal year, up from $200 million in earnings the previous year. Due to an off year at RCA and the defection of distributed label Glassnote to UMG, Sony's album-plus-track-equivalent market share dropped to 28.5 percent from 29.6 percent in 2013. But, notes Morris, Sony labels broke 20 new acts, each with songs that tallied 500,000 or more downloads. "I have never seen anything like it in my whole career," he says.
While he boosted profits, Morris is best-known for being one of the industry's great record men -- he even co-wrote a top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hit, The Chiffons' 1966 single "Sweet Talkin' Guy" -- and beloved bosses. As the only person to have run all three majors, Morris, who lives with his wife, Monique, in New York, has groomed countless executives along the way, including Atlantic's Craig Kallman and Republic's Monte and Avery Lipman. At Sony, he chose the team -- Peter Edge and Tom Corson -- that revitalized RCA, stuck with Antonio "L.A." Reid when he got off to a slow start at Epic and invested in EDM label owner Patrick Moxey and pop hitmaker Dr. Luke. Moreover, artists continue to swear loyalty to Morris' acumen and passion.
"Being in Fleetwood Mac was hard. Being in Doug's world was easy," says Stevie Nicks, who started her solo career in the '80s on Modern Records, under Morris' leadership. "He believed in me, so I believed in me. He made my dreams come true."