Denis Handlin’s 30 years in charge of Sony Music’s Australia operations was celebrated in style with an action-packed charity fundraising party last Friday (Oct. 10) at Sydney’s The Star venue.
Celebrities from the worlds of sport, music and TV were in the house while a mind-boggling line-up of Sony Music superstars and top-ranked execs served-up video tributes to the Sony stalwart, who joined the company in 1970 and is now the longest serving Sony Music staffer in the world.
On the performance front, Irish pop rock outfit The Script opened proceedings, while the likes of homegrown signings Delta Goodrem, The Veronicas, Justice Crew and Guy Sebastian entertained the full room. Sebastian spliced his 2009 hit “Like It Like That” with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ monster 2012 track “Thrift Shop.” The pop singer also dedicated his 2012 song “Battle Scars” to the man of honor. Pop star Jessica Mauboy had the crowd dancing until closing time (a tick before 1am) with a high-energy medley of songs that included a rendition of Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love.”
Sony Music Entertainment chairman and CEO international Edgar Berger and Columbia Records chairman and CEO Rob Stringer made the trip to speak at Handlin’s gathering, which raised more than Australia $200,000 ($176,000) for the Sony Foundation. Handlin’s 44 years makes him the longest serving employee at Sony Music worldwide, Berger noted, while his 30-year ongoing run as the chief of the Australian company stacks impressively against an average tenure of CEOs Down Under at a little over four years. “Denis, you’ve clearly batted it out of the park,” Berger said from the podium.
Among those paying homage to Handlin were Sony Music Entertainment chairman/CEO Doug Morris, Barbra Streisand, Pharrell Williams, Foo Fighters, Pink, Bruce Springsteen, Slash, Network Ten non-executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch, Men at Work’s Colin Hay, Harry Connick Jr, John Legend, Human Nature, Magic!, Paloma Faith, Kesha, Pitbull, Simon Cowell, Tony Bennett, RCA Records president and COO Tom Corson, Billy Joel, Midnight Oil, Daryl Braithwaite, Ricky Martin, John Farnham and Train’s Patrick Monahan.
Pharrell described Handlin as “a huge inspiration to the music industry” and Streisand noted, “when they’re talking about the best of the best, they’re talking about you Denis.” Pink paid respect to the exec who has done arguably more than anyone to make her the biggest female pop star in this country. “I would not be anywhere without you guys. Here’s to 30 more,” she said.
Connick remarked, “You’re the only guy who put a stuffed kangaroo in my hotel room,” while Ricky Martin said of Handlin’s 30-year reign, “how the hell do you do that and still be sane?” Dave Grohl quipped that the Foos were keen to return to Australia and “drink a bunch of f–king tequila with you. That’s what we do every time.”
Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott spoke of Handlin as a “remarkable, extraordinarily decent, and loyal” exec who is “among the ranks of the very best Australians.” Morris congratulated Handlin and said, “we hope that you stay with us as long as you want to.”
Guests on the night included radio personality guest speaker Alan Jones, music presenter Molly Meldrum, concert promoter Michael Chugg, retired cricket legend Dennis Lillee, former federal treasurer Wayne Swan, artists Timomatic and Pete Murray, and TV personalities Kerri-Anne Kennerley, Richard Wilkins, Karl Stefanovic and Samantha Armytage.
Brisbane-born Handlin started with the Australian Record Company (now Sony Music) in May 1970 in the Distribution Division in his hometown. He swiftly rose through the ranks and was appointed managing director and ceo in 1984. In February 1996, he was named chairman, Sony Music Entertainment Australia and appointed to the international committee responsible for the company’s global strategy.
In recent years, Handlin has added duties as president, Asia in addition to his responsibilities for Australia & New Zealand and South East Asia & Korea, and for the major’s operations in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India and the Middle East. He also currently serves as chairman of the ARIA trade body, a position he has held for more than 15 non-consecutive years. In 2012, he was elected as vice chairman of the IFPI Asia Regional Board. Earlier this year, he was named to Billboard’s inaugural International Power Players List.
Handlin is a founding member of the Sony Foundation which, following Friday’s function, has raised roughly $20 million for youth-based charitable causes (the Foundation was launched in 1999). In the Australia Day 2005 Honours List, he was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia for his services to the music and for his fundraising activities, and in 2009, Handlin earned the prestigious Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music at the annual APRA Awards.
During his congratulatory speech on Friday night, Berger had the honor of presenting Handlin with an autographed Santana guitar and a framed collection of all the Sony Music Australia No. 1s during Handlin’s reign. It’s a sizeable collection. After crunching the numbers, Berger revealed 107 singles and 142 albums had topped the charts during those 30 years. Collectively, Sony Australia’s artists have enjoyed close to 800 weeks at the top of the chart, meaning every second week during Handlin’s tenure has seen a Sony artist at the top of Australia’s sales charts. Berger also announced Handlin would receive the ARIA Icon Award during next month’s ARIA Awards in Sydney.
Berger praised Handlin’s mix of “intelligence, instinct, creativity, work ethic and people skills. Without a shadow of a doubt, he’s a world class marketeer, a real music man and a perpetual champion of our artists. But most of all, Denis is a very decent man, he’ll always be in your corner.“
Naturally, Handlin had the last word. “I really do love this industry and have never wanted to do anything else,” he told the crowd. “It really is a joy, not a job. And I feel very fortunate that I have made a career out of a hobby.”
Sony Music International pitched in to the fundraising by making a donation to the Sony Foundation of $50,000. All proceeds from the night went to Sony Foundation’s new fund to support families from its Children’s Holiday Camp Program. The fund enables the Foundation to provide a grant to a different family each year from its Holiday Camp Program. The first recipient of the grant is 12-year-old Jack De Rooy Harris, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the presentation was made.