Who will be the next president/CEO of the Recording Academy, after Neil Portnow winds up an eventful 17-year run in the job this summer? The selection process is ongoing, with the third round of interviews occurring last week. There is informed speculation that the academy may split the top job in two, and have a president/CEO as well as a COO.
The president/CEO job has a lot of perks — a seven-figure salary, high visibility and the chance to oversee the Grammy Awards and MusiCares and other top events. It also has some drawbacks, namely having to take the heat anytime anything goes wrong in the Grammy nominations or awards or on the telecast.
A big question is whether a woman and/or a person of color will get the job. Two men — Portnow and, before him, Michael Greene — have served in the job for a combined total of 31 years. Many are saying that it’s time for a woman, especially in light of Portnow’s unfortunate comment that female musicians and executives need to “step up.” (Add a merciless focus on every word you utter to the list of downsides of the job.)
Greene and Portnow have held the top spot for so long that many have forgotten that a woman was a leader in the academy for many years before Greene became the academy’s first permanent president in early 1988. (Before Greene took over, the academy had a succession of presidents who served two-year terms. Much of the work of running the academy was done by a small, permanent staff, headed by Christine M. Farnon.)
Farnon, who joined the fledgling academy in 1957 as an unpaid volunteer, rose to become executive vice president. She retired in 1992, at which time she became the first woman to receive a Trustees Award from the academy. (That’s equivalent to a lifetime achievement award, but for non-performers.)
But while Farnon was ahead of her time as a woman in a leadership role in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, only a relatively few women have risen to the top ranks at the academy since then.
The academy’s 10-member executive staff, as listed in the program book from the Feb. 10 Grammy Awards, includes just one woman, Laura Segura Mueller, vice president, membership & industry relations. That’s the lowest number of women to be listed among the academy’s executive staff in more than 30 years. Mueller has been on the executive staff for the past three years.
The number of women listed among the executive staff crested from 2003-05, when, for three straight years, five women were listed among the top executives at the academy. In 2003-04, this constituted a narrow majority of the then-nine-member executive staff. (This was early in Portnow’s tenure.)
Numerous other women hold vice president, CMO, COO and executive director titles in MusiCares, the Latin Recording Academy and the Grammy Museum, but they are not listed among the executive staff in the latest program book.
While no woman has been tapped as president/CEO as yet, three (in the post-Farnon years) have risen to the position of senior vice president. Diane Theriot was the first woman to reach this plateau, becoming sr vp of awards in 2002. She was followed by Kristen Madsen, who became sr vp of foundations in 2004, and Nancy Shapiro, who became sr vp of special projects in 2013. All three women were power players at the academy for 15 years or more.
Other women who were listed among the executive team for years include Dana Tomarken (2005-15, rising to vp, MusiCares and Grammy foundations); Angelia Bibbs-Sanders (2003-10, vp, member services); Barb Dehgan (2009-15, vp,, artist relations & corporate communications); Neda Azarfar (2015-18, vp, marketing communications); Susan Leary, CFO from 2002-2004; Megan Clarke, CIO from 2006 to 2008; and Millicent Sanchez, legal adviser from 1995-2002.
Currently, the seven top advisers to the academy, also listed in the program book, include two women, Sandra Crawshaw-Sparks, deputy national legal counsel, and Rosie Procopio, audit & assurance managing director, Deloitte & Touche.
Of the 31 people who have served as chair of the board of trustees since 1957, just two have been women. Leslie Ann Jones, a Grammy-winning recording engineer (and the daughter of novelty recording star Spike Jones) served as chairwoman from 1999-2001. Christine Albert, a singer/songwriter, served as chair from 2013-15.
Another woman, Ruby Marchand, is the current vice chair. She has served in that role for four years under chair John Poppo. Marchand is the third woman to serve in that role, following Jones and Albert.
Thirteen of the current 40 trustees are women: Mindi Abair, Claudia Brant, Terri Lyne Carrington, Sue Ennis, Tracy Gershon, Tracy Hamlin, Lalah Hathaway, Tammy Hurt, Leslie Ann Jones, Terry Jones, Teresa Labarbera, Ann Mincieli and Sassy Black.
Four of the Recording Academy’s 12 chapters currently have female presidents, as shown in the program book: New York (Linda Lorence Critelli), Philadelphia (Carol Riddick), Nashville (Trey Fanjoy) and Texas (Grammy-winning singer Yolanda Adams).
Will a woman get the top job — or one of the top jobs? We’ll soon see.