When it comes to his leadership strategy, Michael Rapino subscribes to a simple formula: "low drama, high performance -- we are not solving world peace in this industry," he says.
That may be so, but the Beverly Hills-based live entertainment giant Live Nation, which claimed 22 of 2014's top 25 tours, is bridging cultures by bringing music's top acts to rooms around the world. In the last decade, that has meant expanding from a couple of thousand shows in two countries (the United States and Canada) and a handful of sponsorships, to 25,000 events in 41 countries servicing 800 brands. Even more impressive: In the two years since he took over, the company's stock price has risen 22 percent (revenue for 2013 was $6.5 billion with $3.4 billion spent on talent), demonstrating Wall Street's confidence in the sector and in Rapino's vision guiding some 20,000 employees in 100 offices around the world.
"Michael Rapino is one of the most exciting executives to come into the music space," says Apple's Jimmy Iovine, who recently joined Live Nation's board of directors. "He has continued to build on a unique collection of assets that can help the industry move forward."
"He is a partner in the truest sense of the word. He's one of the smartest guys I know, so it's only natural that I turn to him for counsel and advice when I most need it. He always makes himself available to talk through plans and ideas with me, and on all fronts is a real supporter." -- Shakira
A global view of music's reach is something Rapino first pondered in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was there that he began booking acts -- his first: Jeff Healey -- and quickly realized he had found his calling. "At 20, I decided there was nothing else I wanted to do in life besides run a global live entertainment company," says Rapino. "I was never all that excited about being in the record business, but I loved those two hours [of a show]."
It has proved a smart career play for the married father of three young sons (two toddlers, and an infant born in November), who lives in Los Angeles' tony Brentwood neighborhood, where he reportedly paid $14.8 million in 2013 for a 52,000-square-foot estate (his compensation that year: slightly more than $8.9 million) -- but it came after some trial and error.
Live Nation's much ballyhooed 360 deal -- which made headlines in 2007 and 2008 when U2, Jay Z and Madonna signed on to share revenue through multirights contracts worth as much as $150 million -- is no longer a priority for the company, which still manages some 250 acts under its Artist Nation division. "We tested [the 360 deal] and it wasn't core to the long-term strategy," Rapino says. "We have long since outsourced those records to Universal and Sony. It's not a model we're basing our business on."
If anything, adds Rapino, live music has turned out to be more akin to the travel industry. "The average person goes to two-and-a-half shows a year, similar to going on a trip," he says. "You have to spend money and time and energy to make a night of going to see that artist, so our core DNA is how to motivate the casual consumer and fan to show up on a Tuesday to see that show. And how do we make sure they have a great experience while they're there? It's kind of a full-time gig getting that right."
Still, the company has struck deals with businesses tangential to its own, including Hilton, which, on Jan. 11, announced a five-year marketing commitment as Live Nation's official hotel partner; Vice, partner in a "joint digital venture" to launch this year; and Yahoo, which hosts daily concerts on its Live Nation channel.
But the biggest integration and, for Rapino, among the most gratifying, has been the merger with Ticketmaster. When Live Nation and the ticketing giant came together in 2010, in a deal valued at $889 million, Ticketmaster was a tarnished brand that lagged in technology and had endured years of bad press. Often blamed for the skyrocketing costs of concert tickets, its mid-'90s spar with Pearl Jam did little to renew the public's faith in the company. Today, it's still not always a concertgoer's best friend. Says Rapino: "When you can't find a ticket, you're not in love with the seller, [but] if there was a five-mile front row, we would be as loved as apples." But with upgrades to the mobile app and new functionalities to the ticket-buying experience, Rapino has accomplished in two years what previously took Ticketmaster 10. "We have a much better product today," he says.
Foresight seems to be Rapino's forte. For instance: his embrace of electronic dance music, going back to the first Creamfields in New York circa 2001, when it was still called a "techno fest." Today's EDM explosion, Rapino believes, has yet to peak. "It's not a fad," he says. "It's an exciting genre that will be around for a long time because it's not only the soundtrack of the youth of today, it has also come with a real reinvention of the live experience."
As his career has flourished, Rapino has endured some growing pains -- "management of the ego," for one. But power? "I'm not that consumed by it," he says.
"It's very transferable ... I admire the creators. The hardest part about being in business is it takes a certain skill to run the track and another to figure out how to lay the new track."
FAVORITE 2014 ACCOMPLISHMENT: "Our 9 pound little bundle of joy."
WHOM I CALL FOR ADVICE: "Jimmy Iovine is not just a record man but someone who has accomplished creating value in innovating. Mark Cuban is someone I get a lot of great inspiration from -- how he's tackling life. And one of the great advantages of being promoters is we work for the artists, and they're some of the great CEOs of our business. Look at Jay Z. He's as good as any CEO I have met."