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Former BMG Chairman John Preston Dies at 67; Annie Lennox & Dave Stewart Lead Music Industry Tributes

Tributes have been paid from across the music industry to former BMG Entertainment chairman John Preston, who has died aged 67 following a brief illness.

Tributes have been paid from across the music industry to former BMG Entertainment chairman John Preston, who has died aged 67 following a brief illness.

Preston began his career in the 1970s, initially working for the chain of Bruce’s Record Shops in Scotland, before joining EMI in 1977. In 1984 he was appointed managing director of Polydor Records U.K. and moved to the British arm of RCA a year later, where he spent four years as managing director. From 1989 to 1998, Preston held the post of chairman of BMG Entertainment.


The well-respected executive was also a long-standing member of BPI Council, including two years as BPI Chairman. He also served as a director of Universal Publishing and was a trustee of music industry charity The BRIT Trust during its formative years in the mid to late 1990s.

Artists that he worked with during the course of his career include Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, M People and Take That, while Simon Cowell, Hugh Goldsmith, David Joseph, Jeremy Marsh and Korda Marshall are among the many executives who were given early breaks by Preston. He is also credited as being the first record company chairman to promote two women to the rank of label managing director: Lisa Anderson to RCA and Diana Graham to Arista.

In 1998, Preston retired from the music business and spent many years building and subsequently sailing his boat ‘Sweet Dreams’ around Europe with his wife Roz, as well as helping develop the famous Hospital members’ club in Covent Garden for Paul Allen.

“It’s very challenging to write about John in the past tense,” said Annie Lennox in a statement. “He was kind, thoughtful, highly intelligent, compassionate, gentle, humorous, supportive, trustworthy, loyal, decent and honorable. It’s unusual to encounter these attributes in people working at the top of an industry known more for its hard driven cut-throat competitiveness,” she continued, calling Preston a “rare diamond.”  

“In addition to being an amazing business leader, John Preston became one of my great friends,” added David Stewart, recalling a surprise party that he and Lennox held for him in a small Working Men’s Club in London, upon his retirement. “We were hiding and as we came on stage, he started crying.  He used to cry a lot but it was such a sweet thing because he was a really sensitive person.  That made it very easy to connect with him as an artist.  Artists felt akin to him even though he was a CEO and steered a big ship.  He had a gentle side to him that was actually quite rare in such a tough business,” said Stewart.

“John was one of the industry’s giants,” reflected WIN CEO Alison Wenham, who worked with Preston during his time as BMG chairman. She called him an “inspirational boss” and “a scrupulously fair man with an infectious energy which made him a joy to be around.”

Universal Music U.K. chairman and CEO David Joseph also paid tribute to “a total gentleman” who “created a culture that never felt like work and he absolutely got the best out of everyone to work as one.” 

Those sentiments were shared by BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor, who called Preston “a luminary who contributed hugely to our industry – leading some of its most dynamic record labels with his pioneering approach at a time of remarkable growth and success for the industry. He will be greatly missed.”