From right: Mejia, Fonsi and Victor Gonzalez, president of Universal Music Latin Entertainment, Fonsi’s label, photographed on Oct. 20, 2017 at The Jane in New York.
From right: Mejia, Fonsi and Victor Gonzalez, president of Universal Music Latin Entertainment, Fonsi’s label, photographed on Oct. 20, 2017 at The Jane in New York.
Eric Ogden

Latin Power Players 2017 List Revealed

by Billboard Staff
November 03, 2017, 1:12pm EDT

With megahits by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Maluma and more reaching the genre's widest-ever audience this year, these behind-the-scenes innovators aren't just nurturing the scene -- they're helping reshape the culture.

LABELS

TOMAS COOKMAN, 57
President, Nacional Records; CEO, Industria Works

Running both alternative label Nacional and management company Industria Works, Cookman is open to what a Latin hit can be. His roster of managed clients rose from six to 17 this year, and by early May, Nacional's 70 acts had already topped the previous year's streaming numbers. Cookman is also putting his efforts behind new artists like rapper Mala Rodriguez. "The Latin urban market needs a strong female like her," he says.

Last Great Latin Movie I Saw: "You'll Never Be Alone by Alex Anwandter. It is a very impactful and moving piece of work."

 

ALEJANDRO DUQUE, 34
GM, Universal Music Latino/Machete Music/Capitol Latin

Duque used his Berklee music management degree, his pedigree (his father was a longtime record man in Colombia), and his savvy as UMLE's former VP of digital and business development to bring a "digital mindset" to the label's U.S. operations. Streaming numbers for "Despacito" and "Mi Gente," both released on labels he oversees, speak to his success. Up next? Multiple remixes, many featuring general market artists.  Already, they include Karol G featuring Quavo, One Republic feat. Sebastian Yatra and Logic Feat. Juanes. 

 

VICTOR GONZALEZ, 51
President, Universal Music Latin Entertainment

As head of UMLE, Gonzalez oversees Universal's operations in the U.S. and Mexico, including oversight of regional Mexican labels Fonovisa and Disa and up and coming dance label Aftercluv.  Beyond the success of "Despacito," Gonzalez has broken new acts like Mon Laferte (5 Latin Grammy nominations), rising regional Mexican star Christian Nodal, Sebastian Yatra, Karol G and Nacho as a solo artist. UMLE increased its year-to-date (as of Oct. 19) total label market share from 0.92 percent to 1.05 percent, to become the total Latin market-share leader in the U.S.

 

JESUS LOPEZ, 62
Chairman/CEO, Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula

In 2016 Lopez met with Luis Fonsi to hear new music including "Despacito." For almost a year, they worked on the song, which came out in January with Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, and later as a remix featuring Justin Bieber. Already a global hit sans Bieber, "Despacito" exploded to become the longest running No. 1 on the Hot 100 and the most-streamed song of all time. J Balvin and Willy William's "Mi Gente" arrived in June, and Lopez saw it scale the Billboard Hot 100; a remix featuring Beyoncé in September took it to the top 10. Unsurprisingly, UMLE increased its year-to-date (as of Oct. 19) total label market share from 0.92 percent to 1.05 percent, to become the total Latin market-share leader in the U.S. Lopez, who oversees Universal's Latin operations worldwide has continued to foster collaborations.

Biggest Lesson Of 2017: "Big things can be done without limitations or borders."

 

ALEX GALLARDO, 42
Senior vp A&R, Sony Music Latin & Latin America

Gallardo, a guitarist, was a recording artist before he was a record executive, which explains his rapport with artists and producers. In the past year, three songs he supervised as A&R simultaneously hit the Spotify Global Top 50: Ricky Martin's "Vente pa'ca," CNCO's "Reggaeton Lento" and Shakira's "Chantaje," featuring Maluma. Much of his attention now is on "monetizing music in digital platforms in the Latin region."

Last Great Latin Movie or TV Show You Saw: TV series "El Chapo," directed by Ernesto Contreras and J.M. Cravioto. 

 

NIR SEROUSSI, 42
President, Sony Music U.S. Latin

Seroussi has seen the globalization of many of Sony Music U.S. Latin's artists in the past 12 months, including CNCO, Maluma, Wisin, Ozuna and Becky G. "Having a global Latin hit is no longer an anomaly or a fluke. Our playing field is now the entire world, not only the Latin region," says Seroussi, who as a multilingual native of Israel raised in Venezuela, intimately understands music as a unifying factor. Sony today leads in current marketshare in the U.S.

Biggest Challenge: "Fair monetization for creators in the Latin region."

 

AFO VERDE, 51
Chairman/CEO, Sony Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula

Verde presides the global activity of a star-heavy roster that includes Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Romeo Santos, Marc Anthony, Nicky Jam, Wisin and Jennifer Lopez as well as rising superstars Maluma, Ozuna, CNCO and Becky G. The steady stream of hits has pushed Sony to lead in current label marketshare in the U.S. For Verde, a Latin Grammy winning record producer and former recording artist, the artistic relationship is sacred. "We've achieved great goals both in the charts and in awards," says Verde. 

 

IÑIGO ZABALA
President, Warner Music Latin America & Iberia

In this reggaetón-dominant era, Warner has notched chart and sales successes with Brazil's Anitta and Jesse & Joy, Maite Perroni and Mario Bautista, the only Mexican pop acts on Spotify's Mexico Top 50 tally. Warner also scored big by signing newcomer Danny Ocean following his streaming hit "Me Rehuso," which was recently released in English through Warner Latin and Atlantic.

Industry Wish: "We need more open-mindedness to other genres."

 

PUBLISHING

JORGE MEJIA, 44
President, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Latin America & U.S. Latin

Mejia's investment in "Despacito" has paid dividends beyond anything he could have imagined. Penned by Sony/ATV's own Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Erika Ender, the global hit, which spent 16 consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, is the most streamed song of all time, with 4.6 billion streams and counting. "We always thought that the day would come when there would be light at the end of the digital tunnel," says Mejia. "It's starting to happen."

My Definition of Crossover: "When my wife's family -- they're from a town in Kansas -- sings one of my songs."

 

GUSTAVO MENENDEZ, 52
President, Warner/Chappell Music Latin America & U.S. Latin

When it comes to his clients, Menendez talks music before numbers. "Representing artists is something I take very seriously," he says. After Juanes signed on in October, the Colombian star cited chairman/CEO Jon Platt and Menendez's "love and eternal passion for music" as a reason why he came onboard. Menendez's deals extend beyond music: This year, he led negotiations to be Univision's music administrator.

Beloved Non-Latin Song: "Every time I hear David Bowie's 'Heroes,' I get chills and end up singing at the top of my lungs, and I've fucking heard that song a thousand times."

 

ALEXANDRA LIOUTIKOFF
Executive vp Latin music, Universal Music Publishing Group

A little over a year into her job, Lioutikoff credits her previous role overseeing memberships at ASCAP and the relationships she fostered there for her recent signings of artists Romeo Santos and Espinoza Paz, writer-producer Rvssian ("Krippy Kush") and Icon Production Group ("Mi Gente"). Since her arrival, UMPG has won 26 performing rights organization awards, doubling its previous haul, with 11 going to new signings.

What's Next: "Pushing the envelope for more investment in tech."

 

MANAGEMENT

FERNANDO GIACCARDI, 50
Manager, Red Light Entertainment

As Enrique Iglesias' longtime manager, Giaccardi this year saw the artist land a No. 1 hit, "Súbele la Radio" (featuring Wisin), wrap up his Sex + Love Tour with 1.7 million tickets sold worldwide and launch his U.S. tour with Pitbull, averaging a $1.2 million gross per date. Also this year, Giaccardi added Jesse & Joy to his roster and is helping the Mexican pop duo record in English and break into European markets.

Best News for Latin Music in 2017: "The whole planet is more receptive than ever to Latin sounds."

 

JAIME GONZALEZ, 37
President/producer, JG Music

Gonzalez is leading two of the hottest new regional Mexican acts on the market and keeping it in the family when he can: His son Christian Nodal, 19, is the first regional Mexican artist to reach the top five on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart in over a year with his debut single, "Adios Amor." Meanwhile, Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho spent six weeks at No. 1 on Top Latin Albums. Nodal's new single with crooner David Bisbal tests stylistic frontiers by mixing regional Mexican with pop.

The Impact of the Political Climate on the Industry: "It affects sales and event attendance, but it grows social media."

 

JORGE JUAREZ, 40
CEO, Westwood Entertainment

DAVID WEST, 54
President, Westwood Entertainment

After booking nearly 600 shows this year in the United States, Mexico, Latin America and Spain, Westwood -- co-founded by Juarez and West in 2000 -- will open offices in Spain to fuel its growing business in Europe. Even though the partners are booking Mexico shows for such artists as Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam and Maluma, their support for the pop music of managed acts like Camila, Sin Bandera, Reik and newcomer Carlos Rivera remains steadfast.

Memorable 2017 Achievement: Juarez: "Developing pop artists in an urban market."

 

WALTER KOLM, 49
CEO, W.K. Entertainment

Latin urban star Maluma, 23, became a chart champ with a Hot 100 hit and a box-office winner with major concerts around the world -- all done with strategic planning, says his manager Kolm, who also guides the careers of Carlos Vives, Wisin and Silvestre Dangond. In addition to selling out arenas in Latin America, Maluma moved over 100,000 tickets during a recent tour in Spain and played sold-out shows in London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam.

Motto: "Take things step by step."

 

REBECA LEON, 42
Founder, Lionfish Entertainment

Leon left AEG in September to focus on her management company, which she founded with Juanes. Lionfish will now join Pharrell Williams, Caron Veazey of iam OTHER and Ron Laffitte of  Patriot Management Group as part of a new joint venture to manage talent and develop content. Leon was busy before that.  Client J Balvin's "Mi Gente" was remixed to feature Beyoncé and shot up the Hot 100. Meanwhile, Juanes' visual album, Mis Planes Son Amarte, is up for album of the year at the Latin Grammy Awards.

The Impact of the Political Climate on the Industry: "It has united us. When confronted with something horrible, you see the best in people."

 

JUAN DIEGO MEDINA VELEZ, 30
Founder/CEO, La Industria

Medina orchestrated client Nicky Jam's comeback by landing him a role in the 2017 Hollywood action flick xXx: Return of Xander Cage and releasing his first album in a decade, Fenix, which debuted at No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart. Medina is expanding his purview too, signing on as executive producer of Telemundo's upcoming Nicky Jam-inspired series, El Ganador; launching a publishing division; and signing Colombian acts ChocQuibTown and Manuel Turizo.

Advice for the Industry: "If artists set their egos aside, we can do even bigger things."

 

ALEX MIZRAHI, 44
CEO, Seitrack Management

LUANA PAGANI
Partner/president, Seitrack USA

Seitrack produced over 100 concerts in the United States during the past year, but most notable was crooner Miguel Bosé's 17-stop U.S. tour. "He broke the paradigm that says the U.S. is just about reggaetón," says Mizrahi, who leads a team of 70 in Mexico and is expanding Seitrack's U.S. office, which is led by former Sony Music marketing executive Pagani. Also on their roster: Bronco, Ha*Ash, Los Ángeles Azules and Yuridia, all pop and regional Mexican acts that are finding fans through streaming. The lack of outlets for pop music is a concern, says Pagani. "On the other hand, we sell out the shows," she adds. 

Why Streaming Matters: Mizrahi "It's a totally democratic platform."

 

ANTONIO "TONY" MOJENA, 53
President, Tony Mojena Entertainment/Tony Mojena Television

Luis Fonsi's manager is leading the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, working with multiple organizations and looking after the safety of his 72 San Juan-based employees. He's also formulating moves for his longtime client, which include a likely collaboration with Demi Lovato, and production on the 2018 Billboard Latin Music Awards in Las Vegas.

Hottest Trend: "Fusion and bringing together different rhythms."

 

ROSIE RIVERA, 36
President, Jenni Rivera Enterprises

Five years after Jenni Rivera's death, her estate is a profitable enterprise thanks to her youngest sister, Rosie, a preacher and former claims adjuster. This year, Rosie worked alongside Telemundo in developing the TV series Mariposa de Barrio. Based on Jenni's life, the show debuted at No. 1 in its 8 p.m. time slot, beating Telemundo rival Univision. On the music side, Rivera and her brother Juan are working with Sony Music Latin to sign and produce new regional Mexican artists.

 

TOURING AND AGENCIES

HENRY CARDENAS, 61
Founder/CEO, Cardenas Marketing Network

ELENA SOTOMAYOR, 45
Executive vp, HENRY

This year, CMN produced and booked over 200 U.S. concerts -- arena dates for stars like ­Ricardo Arjona  and Marc Anthony, and ­newcomers Ozuna and Bad Bunny -- grossing more than $100 million. "These new guys are blowing up," says Cardenas, who is also ­booking a theater tour for ­rising regional Mexican star Christian Nodal. At the same time, the newly launched HENRY agency, run by Sotomayor, debuted a multimillion-dollar Mike's Hard Lemonade campaign for its Harder beverage line in October. "Companies should have dedicated teams focused on the Hispanic consumer set at a national level," says Sotomayor. 

Biggest Change In 2017: ­Cardenas: "The increase of social media ­budgets to promote tours."

 

BRUNO DEL GRANADO, 52
Agent, Creative Artists Agency

Del Granado, who has been with CAA for four-and-a-half years, scored a major win with client Luis Fonsi, whose ­"Despacito" tied the record for ­longest run atop the Hot 100 this summer. "It's a great time to be Latin, thanks to Luis ­Fonsi," says del Granado, whose main focus is touring. Clients Nicky Jam and ­Maluma also had a good year: Six of Maluma's videos landed on ­YouTube's global music chart.

Biggest Challenge: "How do you ­monetize 4 billion views of Luis Fonsi [on YouTube] or the fact that Maluma has 29 ­million followers on Instagram?"

 

RICHARD LOM, 40
Agent, WME

As part of Rob Markus' Latin team, Lom this year booked over 350 domestic and international dates for the likes of Bomba Estereo, Farukko, J Balvin, Juanes, Prince Royce and Luis Coronel. Through WME's territorial system servicing Mexico, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, he also booked Kendrick Lamar, Incubus and Pet Shop Boys in festivals and headline shows. 

What Crossover Means to Me: The term is obsolete. We are now truly in an era where music is a universal language and people want to be challenged.

 

ROB MARKUS, 49
Agent/partner, WME

For 13 years, Markus has grown WME's Latin team, which includes Lom, while helping secure domestic and international tours this year for a range of diverse acts that includes Bomba Estereo, Caifanes, ­Farruko, J Balvin, Juanes, Prince Royce and Luis Coronel. Longtime client ­Balvin, who has toured Europe three times during the past 12 months, is a "role model on how to be a global artist," says Markus.

 

JOHN PANTLE, 46
Vp music, APA

Pantle helped Grammy-winning Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade book her dream gig -- a headlining concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He also handled leading 2017 Latin Grammy nominee Residente's U.S. tour and worked with Japan's Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra to build an audience in Mexico and South America, where the group just completed its No Borders Tour with headlining slots at the Non-Stop Ska Festival in Mexico City.

Biggest Challenge: "The high cost of performance visas."

 

EMILY SIMONITSCH
Senior vp booking, Live Nation

The popularity of Latin music has expanded the tour map for the many Spanish-language artists with whom Simonitsch works. "It's the ­recognition of the growth of the Hispanic population," explains the concert veteran. Simonitsch was ­instrumental in securing Las Vegas residencies for Ricky ­Martin and ­Jennifer Lopez, and helping ­develop Vegas' El Grito weekend ­celebrating Mexico's ­Independence Day, which had record attendance in 2017. "It has turned the town into an annual destination for Hispanic ­families," she says.

Last Great Latin Show You Watched: "Ingobernable on Netflix, featuring Kate del Castillo."

 

MICHEL VEGA, 51
CEO, Magnus Media

Magnus Media, the ­entertainment company Vega started two years ago with Marc Anthony, added ­booking to its responsibilities in 2017. Magnus clients have sold 2.1 million tickets worldwide to over 350 shows, with Anthony claiming the year's ­highest-grossing Latin tour. Vega is ­especially ­focused on ­elevating women in the industry, and, in October, helped form the Somos Una Voz alliance that yielded $35 million for Puerto Rico relief efforts.

Biggest Challenge: "There is just such a blatant absence in terms of ­quantity, proportional quantity, of female artists."

 

MEDIA

JORGE "PEPO" FERRADAS, 53
President of music, Univision Communications

The star power and legacy of the network's awards shows ­Premios Lo Nuestro and ­Premios ­Juventud, as well as its ­presentation of the Latin Grammys, makes Univision's music initiatives a ­priority for ­Ferradas, who this year ­spearheaded a 360 deal with ­Residente. Ferradas also got ­behind the star-studded ­telethons ­supporting relief efforts for recent natural disasters that ­decimated Puerto Rico, Mexico and the ­Caribbean.

2017 Memorable Moment: "Seeing how Univision can react quickly to just about anything."

 

MARIO RUIZ, 61
Senior vp music and entertainment projects, Telemundo

Ruiz's success with the musical-biopic genre is well known, given previous network wins with the two series Celia (2015) and Hasta Que Te Conocí (2016). This year's Jenni Rivera-inspired Mariposa de Barrio was the No. 1 Spanish-language program in its time slot among adults ages 18 to 49. "[Jenni's show] was more a niche market, but turned out to be a success story," says Ruiz, who worked with Universal Music and Rivera's family to assure authenticity. He will bring more music shows to the network, including the life story of Nicky Jam.

Biggest Challenge: "Music piracy."

 

RADIO

RAÚL ALARCÓN, 59
Chairman/CEO, Spanish Broadcasting ­System

Seventeen stations strong, the SBS radio network is small but mighty, including WSKQ (La Mega), New York’s top-ranked station in any language for over a year, and the country’s most listened-to Spanish station. With key stations in Miami, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles and Chicago, SBS is highly influential in determining hits. This year also saw the growth of music streaming app lamusica. 

 

LUCAS PIÑA, 49
Senior vp entertainment, SBS

This year saw Pina's debut Las Vegas staging of Calibash, SBS' signature multi-artist reggaeton show. It was the first Latin show held at the new T-Mobile arena and moved 14,000 tickets (a sell out).  "Lack of vision," is the biggest problem facing the Latin industry today, says Piña, who is also producing a series of Latin music themed cruises for early 2018. "The biggest problem is not believing." 

 

JESUS SALAS, 41
Executive vp programming/multiplatform coordinator, SBS

The Miami-born, Cuban American Salas oversees programming for SBS' very distinct radio stations, including La Mega in New York, which has spent several months as the city's most-listened to station in the past year. La Mega's reggaeton heavy programming reflects the genre's current domination. "It's the new pop of the Latin world," says Salas, who is also proud of SBS' efforts for the community post Irma, Harvey and Maria. "TV was gone, Internet was gone, but radio was on. People were not alone," he says. 

2017 Proudest Achievements: "Being No. 1 in New York, and our relief efforts in Puerto Rico."

 

PEPE GARZA, 51
Programming director, KBUE (Que Buena) Los Angeles; TV/radio/online personality, Liberman Broadcasting

As a judge on Estrella TV's Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento, Garza determines the ascent (or not) of aspiring singers. Garza also created the Premios de la Radio awards show, bringing national attention to regional Mexican acts. His day gig includes programming KBUE and overseeing its ­popular ­morning show, Don Cheto Al Aire, which is one of Los Angeles' top-rated Spanish-language radio programs. ­Meanwhile, his celebrity-driven ­YouTube channel ("Pepe's Office") has over 500,000 subscribers.

Next Up: "Bringing the success that Latin urban music has had with ­collaborations to Mexican music."

 

JESUS LARA, 44
President, Univision Radio

Nine months into his run as president, Lara has maintained Univision Radio's success as the top Spanish-language network in 10 major markets while looking to move into live events and digital content. He cut a deal this year with Live Nation for a series of concerts, beginning Nov. 12 in Dallas, that will feature acts like Daddy Yankee and Chayanne alongside local radio personalities. New digital features rolled out this year look to expand on the appeal of high-profile radio talent like the hosts of KLVE (K-Love) Los Angeles.

 

ENRIQUE SANTOS, 42
Chairman/chief creative officer, iHeartLatino; syndicated radio host

Santos left his longtime gig at Univision Radio in 2016 for a hybrid position at iHeartLatino that involves managing a division and hosting two syndicated radio shows, one in English (airing in 150 U.S. markets) and one in Spanish (in 15 markets). Santos also has helped streamline the annual iHeart Fiesta Latino event and launched iheartlatino.com as the network switched more stations to Latin programming. "Living in both worlds is what I feel is the future of Latinos in this country," he says.

 

DIGITAL 

ROCIO GUERRERO, 30
Head of global cultures, Spotify

Guerrero this year was promoted from head of Latin to head of all global cultures after catapulting the Viva Latino and Baila Reggaeton playlists to Spotify's No. 3 and No. 4 positions worldwide. Listenership to Baila Reggaeton specifically has increased 119 percent since 2014. "We've been excited to focus on Latin music consumption outside Latin countries," she says. "Baila Reggaeton is one of Italy's biggest playlists." In November, Guerrero will relaunch Viva Latino as a multimedia platform that will include videos and editorial content.

Biggest Challenge: "The lack of female Latin representation."

 

SANDRA JIMENEZ
Head of music for Latin America, YouTube/Google Play Music

If anyone is familiar with the power of Latin artists on YouTube, it's Jimenez, who knows the data intimately. Over 30 Latin acts, including newcomer Ozuna and global superstar Shakira, lead the Top 100 Artists chart, and nearly 40 percent of the chart's global audience comes from Latin America. Jimenez also watched closely as Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" made history, surpassing 4 billion views.

Last Great Latin Movie I Watched: "Elis, the authorized biography of Elis Regina, one of Brazil's most important singers."

 

MARCOS JUAREZ, 38
Head of Latin music programming, Pandora

Aside from overseeing the growth of Latin music on Pandora (where the genre this year rose to No. 4 on the platform), Juarez also is focused on capturing the community on an international scale. "Pandora is based in the United States, so I'm looking to represent those demographics," says Juarez, who has been with the digital radio company for five years. "But I'm also looking to mirror both hemispheres as far as the reality of the musical legacy."

Impact of the Political Climate on the Latin Community: "It has increased solidarity among Latinos from all backgrounds."

 

CHELINA VARGAS-PALUMBO, 48
Global manager for Latin artists and label relations, Apple

During an 11-year career at Apple, Vargas-Palumbo has placed Latin superstars like Shakira and Romeo Santos on the Beats 1 airwaves, reaching audiences in over 100 countries. "We have to create compelling music and content that keeps fans engaged," says Vargas-Palumbo. Now she's focused on putting new talent on the air -- specifically female musicians -- while also spotlighting emerging trends. "We need to identify opportunities within and outside of Latin music," she says.

Biggest Lesson of 2017: "Language is no longer a barrier."

 

ORGANIZATIONS

GABRIEL ABAROA, 56
President/CEO, The Latin Recording Academy

The Latin Grammys turn 18 this year, with Abaroa having been at the organization 15 years. Much of his time has been spent strategizing and increasing The Latin Recording Academy's efforts to fund young musicians' education through scholarships. To date, the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation has awarded over 100 scholarships -- often in the form of full tuitions -- totaling $2.5 million to student musicians. "We have done a lot, and largely due to Latin power and pride in Latin music," he says.

Contributors: Justino Águila, Dave Brooks, Leila Cobo, Griselda Flores, Adrienne Gaffney.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of Billboard.