Executive Turntable

Executive Turntable: New Hires at Obama's Media Company & Warner's Social Justice Fund

Higher Ground
Leigh Keily

From Left to Right: Joe Paulsen (Head of Business and Strategy), Ada Chiaghana (SVP, Film & TV), Mark R. Wright (VP, Film & TV), Kira Rakshit (Executive Assistant), Alex Pitz (Director of Development), Tonia Davis (Head, Film & TV), Janae Marable (Editorial Assistant), Dan Fierman (Head, Audio), Mukta Mohan (VP, Audio), Anna Holmes (Creative Director, Audio), Julian Mowatt (Operations Assistant), Not Pictured: Crystal Zhang (Executive Assistant)

Former president Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s media company Higher Ground has announced several additions to its executive team: Joe Paulsen as head of Business and Strategy, Dan Fierman as head of Audio and Anna Holmes as Creative Director, and Mark R. Wright as team vp of Film and Television.

The new executives enter Higher Ground just as its co-head of Film and Television, Priya Swaminathan, leaves. Swaminathan was the first hire the Obamas made for the company, but will step down later this summer. “Working alongside Tonia and the Higher Ground team has been a life-changing experience,” she said. “President and Mrs. Obama are inspiring leaders who push all of us to challenge the status quo, to be tenacious and empathic in everything we do, and to invest in the people we work with as much as the stories we have the privilege of telling. I am honored to have been a part of this family and can’t wait to see what stories they tell next.”

Formerly Special Assistant to the President at The White House and Deputy Chief of Staff to the former president, Paulsen has worked with the Obamas their campaign in 2007 and oversaw the creation of Higher Ground since its inception.

Dan Fierman most recently served as president of Epic Media in Los Angeles, leading the media start-up to acquisition by Vox Media in 2019. Prior to that, he led news coverage at MTV, was the Editorial Director of the pop culture site Grantland and oversaw culture and special packages at GQ. He and Holmes oversaw the launch of The Michelle Obama Podcast and Renegades: Born in the USA, the podcast hosted by President Obama and Bruce Springsteen.

Mark R. Wright was an executive at MACRO, where he developed and produced Juel Taylor’s directorial debut, They Cloned Tyrone (Netflix). His slate of projects also includes the Oscar-winning film Judas and the Black Messiah, Alan Yang’s Tigertail and Birth of Cool. He has produced several short films, including an award-winning science fiction film, Prototype, which premiered at the 2018 American Black Film Festival.

Higher Ground’s upcoming content slate encompasses a range of fiction, non-fiction and kids & family across series, feature films and podcasts. “We started Higher Ground because we wanted to tell stories that not only entertain, but also inform and inspire,” President Obama and Michelle Obama said in a joint statement. “We are so proud of the work this team has done in just a few short years. This talented leadership team at Higher Ground will continue to bring fresh perspectives, compelling characters, and a healthy dose of inspiration to all of our projects.”


The Warner Music Group / Blavatnik Family Foundation Social Justice Fund has appointed Lorelei Williams to be the company’s first executive director. Previously, she served as senior vp of Grant Programs at Comic Relief U.S.

Williams will serve as an employee of Moore Impact, Blavatnik’s fiscal sponsor, and will work closely with their board to “bring to life its vision of building more equitable communities and creating real change in the lives of “historically underserved and marginalized populations through investing in organizations at the forefront of this work,” the press release reads. Based in New York, she’ll report to Yvonne Moore, the organization’s president.

“Structural racism, economic inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic have converged with devastating impact, especially for Black communities in the U.S. and the African Diaspora,” Williams said. “We have a powerful opportunity – and obligation – to radically reimagine and rebuild a more just society. In partnership with our dynamic Board, I look forward to building an innovative Fund that leverages the power of culture, advocacy and direct action to create real change in the lives of historically underserved and marginalized populations.”

The appointment of Williams follows WMG/BFF SJF’s annual report, which gave an overview of their “intentional grantmaking structure, investments, and grantee programming and partnerships during its first year,” according to the release. Founded last year after the murder of George Floyd, the foundation invests in organizations that help underserved, primarily Black populations.

During her time at Comic Relief, Williams launched a grantmaking pillar focused on economic empowerment and inaugurated a Youth Advisory Council, composed of eight trailblazing young leaders who now inform the strategy for their famous fundraising campaign Red Nose Day. Before Comic Relief, she served as president of Onira Global Advisors and worked as a philanthropic strategist focusing on the U.S., South America, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

“We’re thrilled to have Lorelei join us to help lead our grantmaking strategy, which is focused on three guiding pillars – education, criminal justice reform, and culture and the performing arts,” said Mark Baker, WMG/BFF SJF Board member and senior vp, Public Policy & Government Affairs, WMG. “Her extensive background in social justice philanthropy on a global scale and community development make her a perfect fit for this role. With her strategic oversight and direction, the Board is confident that it will make a sustained, long-term impact in advancing equity and justice around the world.”


Ingrooves Music Group has named Anne Sofie Jeremiassen as their new country manager of Ingrooves Denmark, in a move geared at “expanding the company’s presence in this Top 20 music market,” the press release reads. Jeremiassen comes to Ingrooves following two years teaching and consulting in the music business.

Jeremiassen also previously served as CEO of an independent record label in Denmark, ArtPeople Music. There, she guided the company’s 2018 acquisition by Universal Music, becoming head of Virgin Music Denmark until 2019. “Anne Sofie has built a reputation within Denmark as one of the most forward-thinking and respected executives in music,” said Nick Roden, Ingrooves’ managing director, UK. “Her expert knowledge of independent music in the region and her deeply rooted relationships within the industry make her the ideal person to lead our business in Denmark.”

The addition of Jeremiassen is part of Ingrooves’ recent global expansion efforts, which span moves in Mexico, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, South Africa and an increasing presence in Australia/New Zealand. Jeremiassen will be based in Copenhagen, meanwhile Ingrooves is headquartered in Los Angeles.

“Ingrooves is known in Denmark and throughout the world as having the most advanced proprietary technology, data-driven analytics and tools available to independent record labels,” Jeremiassen said. “I look forward working with Danish labels and artists to grow their fanbases here in Denmark as well as working with the Ingrooves’ global team to help Danish artists expand into new territories around the world.”


Nederlander Concerts has brought on Kate Guarrieri to their talent booking team, where she will help program the Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles, City National Grove of Anaheim, San Jose Civic, California Performing Arts Center in San Jose, Heart Health Park in Sacramento, SOMO Concerts in Sonoma Countyand and more of Nederlander’s core venues. “I am excited to join the Nederlander Concerts team and look forward to contributing to the growth and success of their touring goals,” Guarrieri said.

Guarrieri was previously at Live Nation working as a local talent buyer and national tour director. She’s worked with an artist roster spanning the Foo Fighters, Panic! At the Disco, Incubus, Sia, Chris Stapleton, Bon Iver, Leon Bridges, Avril Lavigne, Ray LaMontagne, Massive Attack and Weird Al. A longtime vet of the live entertainment industry, she also garnered some of her expertise while actually on the road with artists like Fall Out Boy/Paramore, Oddball Comedy Tour and Muse.

“Kate’s national touring experience is a perfect fit to expand our booking department’s efforts,” said Alex Hodges, CEO of Nederlander Concerts. “As we continue to add venues, route, and curate tours, it is essential to enhance our team with seasoned professionals, and we are thrilled Kate is joining our team.”


Range Media Partners has added Rachel Douglas to their team as a partner in the Music Division. She will be one of the music partners at the forefront of Range’s business development and strategy as they work to build out their publishing arm and create connectivity between artist development and the company’s writer/producer roster.

The addition of Douglas “signifies another major development for the department,” which services Mariah Carey, Jack Harlow, Justin Tranter, Wale, PartyNextDoor, MAX, WondaGurl, Midland and D Smoke, according to the press release. Douglas said in a statement that she’s excited to join Range’s “mission to revolutionize the way talent can be elevated in Music and Entertainment.”

“Having worked for multinational media companies and bedroom start-ups alike, I'm proud to say that Range combines the reach of the former with the sense of community and curation of the latter,” she said. “The multi-hyphenate creatives we represent have gifts that can be expressed across the full spectrum of Entertainment and I'm thrilled to be able to apply my background in talent management and business development at a company as dynamic as its clients.”

The New York native got her start on Wall Street as an investment banker, later shifting to a music-focused executive career. She now represents songwriter and producer Sean Douglas and production duo Nova Wav, while acting as an ambassador for Root & Rebound, whose mission is to restore power and resources to families and minority communities most harmed by mass incarceration through legal advocacy, public education, policy reform and litigation.

“Rachel and I have worked in tandem with a number of artists and I’ve seen her ability first-hand to seamlessly work with and maximize opportunity for talent across multiple sectors of entertainment,” said Range Media Partners’ managing partner Evan Winiker. “Her business development background provides her with a strategic perspective and acts as a key resource for her clients. I’ve also been impressed by how adeptly Rachel has navigated the rapidly evolving arena of music catalog sales. She’s secured and negotiated groundbreaking, 8-figure deals for her clients and her financial acumen makes her a uniquely valuable asset for several Range clients in that space.”


The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) has announced the addition of seven new board members under the new leadership of Stacey Garrett Koju. The announcement of the new hires comes with the introduction of a podcast series that documents Black music history. “As the museum rounds out its inaugural year, these updates mark the beginning of a transition from a brick-and-mortar museum to a unique storytelling institution,” the press release reads.

Koju joins the company as the first Black woman to lead a museum’s board, according to the release. Her new board includes Bret R. Babcock, COO and CFO at LOGICFORCE, Vince Gill, recording artist, Brett Sweet, Vanderbilt University’s vice chancellor for Finance and CFO, Jon Platt, chairman and CEO of Sony Music Publishing, Tom Curtis, managing director, Truist, Dene Oliver, former Chief Vision Officer (retired), Brookfield Properties and Monique Idlett-Mosley, president and CEO of Reign Venture Capital.

“With Stacey at the helm of the board, NMAAM is expanding its purpose, vision and mission from historical documentation to include more active storytelling ventures, all with the function of elevating Black stories to wider audiences,” said Henry Beecher Hicks III, president and CEO at NMAAM. “Along with the rest of our new board members, NMAAM is looking ahead to the future of this museum and how we can remain at the cutting edge of Black cultural preservation and education.”


Big Loud Records has announced a new round of hires in its promotion department, which will “help drive Big Loud into a promising future – while also making them stronger and more resourceful in the here and now,” according to the press release.

Stacy Blythe has been promoted to senior vp, Promotion, having previously served as vp, Promotion. Blythe has been “integral” to Big Loud Records’ fast success, with achievements like 11 U.S. No. 1s with gold, platinum, and multi-platinum certifications and more than 14 billion global streams to date in less than six years. She’ll be joined by Ali  Matkosky, elevated to the position of vp, Promotion from her role as national director, Promotion. Working directly with Blythe and the Big Loud Records lineup, Matkosky is credited with contributing to eight chart-toppers and will keep looking to develop more.

Tyler Waugh has also been promoted, with his new position being national director, promotion. Waugh has spent the last few years as the director of Southeast Promotion, meanwhile Sarah Headley progresses to director, southeast promotion  from her former role as promotion coordinator.

Other new hires include Delaney Rogers, who will take on the role of executive assistant for Blythe, and Kelley Brock, now the label’s promotion coordinator. Brock was previously an on-air radio personality at WKDF – Nashville and WUSY – Chattanooga.


Event marketing software company ​​Audience Republic has a new Chief Revenue Officer in Brian Arnone. He previously served as patron technology president and CRO at Patron Technology.

While at Patron Technology, Arnone led their sales, marketing, and account management teams and served on the company’s senior leadership team, acquiring companies in the realms of ticketing, mobile apps, experiential marketing, logistics software, and cashless RFID. “Audience Republic is the answer to a question people have been asking me my whole career: ‘How are you going to help me sell more tickets?’” Arnone said. “I’ve had to answer that question more times than I can count.”

Before joining Patron Technology, Arnone served as president and COO of Pittsburgh-based ShowClix, and is credited with growing the company’s revenue by 240% within three years through his direction. And as senior vp of Sales for Ticketfly, Arnone played a key role in the company’s successful sale to Pandora in 2015.

“We’re thrilled to have Brian onboard,” says Audience Republic CEO Jared Kristensen. “With over two decades of experience, including leadership roles at Ticketfly, Showclix and Patron Technology, Brian will play a critical role in continuing our growth in North America, Europe, United Kingdom, and our other markets globally.”