From left: Aguirre, Genco, Charlesworth and LaPolt photographed in 2018.

Billboard's 2019 Women In Music Hall of Fame Executives

Honored in previous years as executives of the year, these industry leaders talk about their ongoing work and challenges, changing attitudes toward women, advice for the next generation and the artists who inspire them.

Danielle Aguirre
Executive vp/general counsel, National Music Publishers' Association
Jacqueline Charlesworth
Partner, Alter Kendrick & Baron
Susan Genco
Co-president, The Azoff Company
Dina LaPolt
Owner/CEO, LaPolt Law

To say that these executives, who played a crucial role in the passage of the Music Modernization Act, have remained busy in the year since the legislation was signed into law would be an understatement. All four were involved in the creation of the Mechanical Licensing Collective, the mechanical rights administration organization called for by the MMA. “It’s a technology and data company at its heart,” says Aguirre, a nonvoting board member of the MLC. Beta testing on a centralized public database accessible to both rights holders and anyone licensing mechanical rights is slated for the end of the second quarter of 2020. “We will have a portal, one place, where you’ll get paid, and there will be audit rights,” says Aguirre. “It’s something that’s intuitive, whether you’re a self-published songwriter with a few songs or you’re a major publisher with a few million songs.”

The MLC wasn’t the only new organization launched in 2018 to protect the rights of creators. Genco -- along with her fellow co-president of The Azoff Company, Elizabeth Collins -- was one of the founding forces behind the Music Artists Coalition, an artist advocacy group.

“Being an artist is an individual undertaking,” she says. “Folks on the other side who have interests that are not necessarily pro copyright/pro artist are very good at dividing and conquering. We haven’t always come together as a group.” So the Music Artists Coalition -- whose board includes Irving Azoff, Coran Capshaw, John Silva and Live Nation Entertainment’s Ali Harnell -- will draw on the coalition-building that led to the passage of the MMA to protect artists’ rights.

For both Charlesworth and LaPolt, the past year has been a time of expansion. Charlesworth joined music copyright firm Alter Kendrick & Baron in May and moved to Los Angeles, where she’s building out the firm’s West Coast presence. “I had to take the California bar exam last summer, which was not a lot of fun, but I passed,” she says. For her part, LaPolt -- who made news when she got client 21 Savage out of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in February -- has grown her business enough that she’ll be expanding her namesake firm next spring.

All four recognize that there have been positive changes for women in the industry, and all four see the need for greater change. “The more that you can have not just women, but women of color in positions of power that show the diversity of the music that we’re actually representing, the stronger our industry is going to be,” says Aguirre.

Adds LaPolt: “It is sad that there are only five women CEOs, and two of those share the title with their male counterparts.”

Genco would like to see better protection for female creatives. “If you’re a female executive at a label, publisher or management company, one hopes that you have a system in place that can address any concerns that arise,” she says. “Who do you call when you’re a young, female session musician? Who do you call when you’re a young songwriter who’s at the studio late at night with a powerful producer, powerful artist, powerful songwriter? There’s no boss there.”

Charlesworth sees a need to address issues on a broader scale. “Fundamentally, at a cultural level we have to embrace the idea that women really can be great leaders,” she says. “The sad truth is that in large law firms, the number of women equity partners, frankly, hasn’t changed much since I graduated from law school, which was a long time ago. You have to get to a tipping point where there are enough women in leadership roles that it’s not an exception, but it’s just the way things are.”

Bozoma Saint John
Chief marketing officer, Endeavor

Maya A Darasaw/MAD Works Photography
Bozoma Saint John

“I have a high bar for what I want to see happen for women in the music business and in the corporate world overall. There hasn’t been enough change. We’re still looking at very low percentages for women in the C-suite. And since the retirement of [Xerox CEO] Ursula Burns three years ago, there are no black women CEOs at a Fortune 500 company. As we’ve seen in the report commissioned by the Lean In organization, the glass ceiling isn’t the problem, it’s the broken rung. Women aren’t getting into management positions -- and if they can’t get to that level, how do they expect us to get to the ceiling? We need to evolve the narrative so that making these changes isn’t just on the shoulders of women but squarely on the shoulders of men. Men need to be made more aware of the fact that there aren’t women in these positions. That they need to be held more accountable for the numbers and for the advancement of women. But I’m still very optimistic. I work to showcase the fact that you can be a black woman in the corporate space -- in any space. I’ve been a woman in tech, in music, Hollywood -- a lot of different industries -- and I see that there’s an opportunity to bring more women in, especially in senior positions. Because the pipeline is definitely not the problem.”

Julie Greenwald
Chairman/COO, Atlantic Records

Matthew Furman
Julie Greenwald

“When Lizzo came in last September to play her album, I said to her, ‘We need this right now.’ Because I was feeling like, ‘What the fuck is going on in the United States?’ We need good, positive people like her who stand for something. There’s that Marian Wright Edelman quote, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ Lizzo definitely put herself on front street and made sure people -- young girls, young boys, the LGBT community -- could see something else. We haven’t really seen a woman like her be a mainstream artist since Aretha Franklin. She talked about self-love and body positivity, but she was like, ‘I’m also going to have bad days, and I’m going to be honest with everybody’ -- just 100% authentic. And I definitely set the tone here, which was: ‘We’re fucking breaking Lizzo.’ It was not ‘Hey, I hope we can get it.’ It was ‘You’re going to make sure everyone hears this album and understands who Lizzo is.’ And everyone delivered. The covers came when we needed them, the synchs. Radio -- you can count on one hand how many artists you can take to five formats. I worked her on all sides of the building. She’s not a pop artist, she’s not an urban artist. She’s everyone’s artist.”

Michele Anthony
Executive vp/executive management board member, Universal Music Group

Courtesy of UMG
Michele Anthony

“There is a lot that has improved [for women], and I’m proud of our company. You only need to look at the leadership of UMG to see the number of very strong senior women peppered throughout the company. I’m proud to sit on Jody Gerson’s executive board for She Is the Music, and I’m proud of the work we did alongside the Recording Academy task force, focused on creating diversity in Recording Academy voting membership, the committees and the show itself. We’ve made great gains. But there’s so much more that needs to be accomplished, not just in our industry but in many others. Part of the positive change that we’ve seen is generational. There is more of a majority consciousness -- a favorite Gloria Steinem term -- regarding equal opportunities and pay. However, there’s still clichéd stereotyping -- ambitious, strong female personalities being referred to as too tough or emotional. Women being told to calm down, being interrupted, subjected to overtalking, not sharing credit. I continue to hear these things from young women. Gloria Steinem has a great point in her new book: Women should be linked, not ranked. It’s very important for young women to own their voices and their power, and to support and promote each other.”

Jody Gerson
Chairman/CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group

John Michael Fulton
Jody Gerson

“If we are going to increase the numbers of women working in music, it’s going to be women who have to push other women into position. People ask about ours being a male-dominated business. There are a lot of men in the business, and you push your friends into position. When I was coming up, I didn’t play golf, I didn’t go to basketball games with the guys. I wasn’t part of that crowd. There was no way for me to have social interaction with the people leading our business. It certainly didn’t hurt me. But in order to truly change the numbers, we as women have to create community -- I call it sisterhood. And you have to change the narrative. It’s not enough that there’s one of us running a company. It’s not going to be better until there are many of us running companies, and it’s not going to be better until people aren’t thinking about women running companies. I want to be compared to the best executives in the business. Not the best female executives. I -- with an incredible group of executives and employees -- have built Universal into a billion-dollar business. Our revenue growth is extraordinary. It’s not because I’m a woman running a business. It’s because I’m a really good executive running a business.”

Judy McGrath
Board of directors, Amazon

Courtesy Photo
Judy McGrath

“Baby boomers -- whether it’s in politics, music or media -- need to step aside and make room for the new generation, who are digital natives, who grew up in a very different world and who have different expectations from work and life. In many ways, I think it’s harder for young people today. Looking for a job is anonymous. You do everything electronically. But I think the best advice I can give young women is, do lots of different things along the way. I recently heard Michelle Obama speak, and she said that she was always very focused on a straight line forward -- which has certainly worked for her -- but that her husband taught her the value of the swerve. You’re not going to know what you’re great at, or what you like, until you try it. Have an open mind. Learn something about management. Learn something about business. Gerry Laybourne, who ran Nickelodeon at Viacom, once said to me, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be truly successful until you learn to look at business as creatively as you look at the creative process.’ At the time, I thought, ‘I’m not so sure about that.’ But the truth is, I really fought my way into understanding and representing business -- P&Ls, operating income -- so I could be fully taken seriously at the table. So that was good advice.”

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of Billboard.

2019 Billboard Women in Music