Warner Music Group
POWER MOVE: Restructured Warner Music into three units — labels, publishing and artist services — as he strengthened the balance sheet.
THE RUNDOWN: Before taking over the third-largest record company in the world in August 2011, Stephen Cooper didn’t have any music industry experience, but he did helm an odd mix of other companies: Hawaiian Telcom, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Enron, to name just a few.
A common thread connects most of those firms: They all hired Cooper as CEO during market and corporate upheaval. The same could be said about Warner Music Group, which sits on the precipice of a crumbling empire whose outmoded business model must evolve to survive.
Though Len Blavatnik (No. 6) owns WMG through his holding company Access Industries, Cooper is regarded as the Hand of the King. The pair has a longstanding relationship, and Cooper is entwined in several other Blavatnik enterprises, including serving as a member of the supervisory board of LyondellBasell Industries. These ties therefore make Cooper’s authority at Warner unquestioned.
The relationship works because Cooper is known for his restructuring. At Warner, this meant building a team that knows the music biz inside out, making up for his own lack of experience. Cooper elevated Cameron Strang (No. 36) and Matt Signore in a November shake-up that reorganized the company into three divisions — labels, publishing/catalog and artist/label services. He also hired Jon Platt (No. 82), a publishing exec with deep roots in R&B and hip-hop, and Rob Wiesenthal, one of the architects behind Sony’s purchase last year of EMI’s publishing. And just hours after this issue of Billboard was printed, Warner boosted its artist roster and market share by acquiring the Parlophone Label Group from Universal Music.
Cooper improved Warner’s cash flow by refinancing the company’s debts in November, taking advantage of lower interest rates while using a portion of the savings to pay down the principal.