CEO, Warner Music Group
CEO of recorded music, WMG
$1.1 BILLION IN REVENUE GROWTH: In the eight years since he became CEO, Steve Cooper, 72, has presided over growth in revenue from $2.9 billion to over $4 billion at Warner Music Group. While $504 million of that was a one-time windfall from the sale of the company’s full stake in Spotify, the fundamentals remain solid: 2018 was the sixth straight year of U.S. total market-share growth for WMG (up almost half a percentage point to 21.16 percent), driven by Atlantic’s wide-ranging success and signs of life from a restructured Warner Bros. Records.
Cooper has a reputation for funding his generals and letting them loose. “I believe we have the greatest team in the business, and it’s my job to create an environment where they’re free to do their best work,” he says. For Max Lousada, that freedom translated to a wide range of strategic acquisitions in his first full year as WMG CEO of recorded music, including digital publisher Uproxx, ticketing platform Songkick, Germany-based etailer EMP Merchandising and the A&R data-tracking tool Sodatone. Sources put the combined price tag at between $300 million and $400 million.
Each is part of what Lousada calls an “entertainment ecosystem,” where components can both drive listeners to streaming services and build upon the experience of streaming discoveries. Digital streaming platforms “are great at delivering millions of streams,” he says. “But they are challenging to create memories for the fan. Our job is to create loyalty for an audience beyond just a playlist.” Uproxx (which focuses on music, movies, TV and sports), for instance, offers WMG an audience of 40 million monthly uniques, a branded-content sales team and a video production company. “We can start telling stories not just from an audio-stream discovery or traditional three-minute video,” says Lousada. EMP, which sells everything from Metallica T-shirts to gaming gear to Disney merch, offers a different way of engaging fan communities. “Creating a Warner Music Network is really what we’re starting to do,” he adds.
At 45, the South London-born Lousada isn’t quite young enough to qualify as a digital native — he remembers hand-delivering 12-inch singles to Funkmaster Flex in the 1990s when he was running New York hip-hop indie Rawkus Records — but he moves with the speed and expansive vision of a digerati master. On his second day on the job, he named RCA’s Tom Corson and Interscope Geffen A&M’s Aaron Bay-Schuck to run Warner Bros. Records. 2018 brought the launch of Elektra Music Group as a stand-alone label and the opening of Warner Music Middle East in Beirut.
“Streaming is connecting the world,” says Lousada. “We’ve seen that with Latin music, and you’ll start to see that in Africa and the Middle East. Our ability to go into markets early is a reflection of the company we want to be. We’re not waiting or being conservative. We’re optimistic about the future.”