When Lyor Cohen resigned as chairman/CEO of Warner Music Group’s recorded-music division five years ago, WMG CEO Stephen Cooper restructured the company so that its label heads reported directly to him, rather than hire a replacement. As of Oct. 1, that role will be filled again, when 43-year-old Warner U.K. chairman/CEO Max Lousada assumes his mentor and former boss Cohen’s old duties, with the expectation that he will eventually succeed Cooper.
An indie veteran who established himself at Rawkus and Mushroom Records, Lousada has been with WMG since 2003. Initially appointed head of A&R at Atlantic Records U.K., he rose to president and chairman of the label in 2009, overseeing an operation that signed Ed Sheeran, Clean Bandit and James Blunt and helped develop Coldplay and Muse.
Sheeran’s manager Stuart Camp told Billboard that Lousada’s “passion for, and knowledge of, music across all genres is outstanding, [and] his ability to communicate his ideas is unmatched.”
By the time Cooper appointed Lousada to lead WMG’s U.K. division in 2013, he also had developed a reputation for spotting promising executive talent, such as Ben Cook, whom he brought in to run Asylum, and, more recently, Atlantic U.K.
Warner’s promotion of Lousada comes at a time when he was being courted to fill the chairman/CEO post at Columbia Records left vacant when Rob Stringer was promoted to Sony Music Entertainment CEO in April. By staying in the Warner family, Lousada becomes the youngest top music executive among the three majors and steps into a global role that gives him oversight of recorded-music operations at the third-largest major label group. WMG owns the Atlantic, Warner Bros. and Parlophone labels as well as the Rhino and Warner Classics catalogs.
“I came to Warner because it has always been such a fantastic melting pot of independent spirits uniting to champion artists that change culture and make music that matters,” Lousada said in a statement.
“He embraces change and seizes the opportunities [generated by] the evolving landscape,” says Cohen, who currently works as YouTube’s global head of music.
Lousada will inherit one label, Atlantic, that has been on fire for the past year; it’s currently reaping the success of Sheeran’s ÷ and has six of the top 11 songs on the Billboard Hot 100. Warner Bros. Records presents more of a challenge. Although up-and-coming Danish band Lukas Graham‘s 2016 hit single “7 Years” energized the label, Warner has struggled with breaking new talent.
“Max has done a tremendous job in transforming the fortunes of the U.K. company while creating a progressive culture of excellence which has helped attract and retain great artistic and executive talent,” Ian McAndrew, CEO of London-based Wildlife Entertainment, which manages Arctic Monkeys and Warner-signed Royal Blood, told Billboard. “His understanding of the market and entrepreneurial and creative flair will be a huge asset to the global company and to our artists.”
WMG under Cooper has steadily repositioned itself for the streaming age, posting a 9.4 percent increase in revenue to $3.2 billion — its best number in eight years — and a 2.7 percent gain in market share to 21.4 percent in 2016. But Cooper is regarded as an astute businessman — who was hired to run WMG by its owner Len Blavatnik in 2011 — not a music man. He is also 70 years old and is expected to groom Lousada as his eventual successor. Says Cohen: “We’re entering the second or third golden age of the music business, and Max is just the type of executive who should be leading that.”
Additional reporting by Richard Smirke.