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Motown Records Chief Ethiopia Habtemariam Is Stepping Down

The respected label and publishing executive leaves after two decades at parent company Universal Music Group.

Motown Records chairwoman and CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam is stepping down from her position “to pursue new endeavors,” the label and parent company Universal Music Group (UMG) announced Tuesday (Nov. 29). A successor will be announced at a later date.

In a statement, Habtemariam said, “It has been the greatest honor to work with some of the most incredible artists, songwriters and partners in the world. I have always had a clear vision for the talent that I’ve had the privilege to work with, which has led Motown to global success and returned the label to the forefront of contemporary culture. I would not have been able to make that vision come to life without the support of my amazing team at Motown, my UMG colleagues around the world, and Sir Lucian. I am incredibly proud of what we have created during my tenure, and I consider this the perfect finale to my 20 years at UMG spanning publishing and recorded music.”

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UMG chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge added, “Under Ethiopia’s leadership, Motown has seen strong growth, continuing its legacy of bringing important new voices to modern culture. Not only has Ethiopia been instrumental in developing and breaking incredible artists, but also she has strategically identified and amplified key partnerships that have been, and will continue to be, cornerstones of the UMG creative ecosystem. While I will miss working with Ethiopia, I know she will achieve great things going forward and she leaves with our enduring love and respect.”

Habtemariam was elevated to Motown chairman and CEO in March 2021 following six years as president, making her just the third woman and only the second woman of color ever to hold that title at a major label. During her tenure, she orchestrated creative and entrepreneurial ventures with partners including a 2015 deal with Quality Control Music, under which Motown helped shepherd the careers of QC artists including Migos, City Girls, Lil Yachty, Layton Greene and Lil Baby.

At the time of her hire as chairwoman and CEO, Habtemariam noted Motown would move forward as a standalone label with some shared services, spinning out from under the Capitol Music Group umbrella. Since that time, the label has put out music from Migos, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, Vince Staples, Tiwa Savage, Ne-Yo and Kem, among others. In addition to the Quality Control partnership, under Habtemariam’s leadership Motown has also signed joint venture deals with YoungBoy Never Broke Again and his label; singer and rapper Smino, in partnership with his Zero Fatigue and EQT (Equative Thinking) labels; and Sean “Diddy” Combs and his label Love Records.

Before joining Motown in the dual role of label president and executive vp of Capitol Music Group, Habtemariam worked at Universal Music Publishing Group for more than a decade, rising from creative manager to president of urban music & co-head of creative.

In an internal note sent to her team following the announcement, Habtemariam paid tribute to her Motown colleagues while noting her nearly 20-year run with UMG. During her tenure at the publishing division, she built a team that signed and developed songwriters including Cardo, Childish Gambino, Chris Brown, Ciara, Big Sean, Hit-Boy, J. Cole, Jhene Aiko, Justin Bieber, Miguel, Stacy Barthe and Quavo.

Habtemariam also emphasized her dedication “to bringing a renewed vision of Black excellence to Motown – rooted in the past but connected to today, global in nature and a platform for the future.”

“The business has changed so much over those twenty years but throughout its ups and downs, I’ve always felt blessed to have the opportunity to work in so many aspects of the industry,” she continued. “My hunger to learn and continue to evolve led me to the unique experience of working across publishing and recorded music simultaneously. The fact that I was empowered to this unique position reflects my passion for supporting those that are blessed with the gift of music but also speaks to the incredible opportunities I was offered here and for that I want to thank Lucian who recognized my talent as a creative in publishing and gave me the opportunity to lead at a label as well.”

Habtemariam started her career in 1994 at age 14 as an intern at L.A. Reid‘s LaFace Records, where she worked for four years before moving to Universal Music Group. She has been named to numerous Billboard lists, including the 2022 Power List in January. In September, she was honored with The Clarence Avant Trailblazer Award at the first annual BMAC Music in Action Awards.

You can read Habtermariam’s full note to her team below.

Team:

Some of you may or may not know that the top of 2023 marks my 20th year at Universal Music Group. And, after two amazing decades, I’ve made the incredibly hard decision to leave for my next adventure. I’ll address my future plans soon, but today is all about Motown, UMG and you.

First and foremost, to the Motown team, your commitment to our artists, the legacy of this label, and the community at large is not lost on me. It’s been a privilege and honor to work with each and every one of you and I’m so excited to see how you continue to move Motown forward. Over 60 years ago, Mr. Gordy forged a core for this company – one that respects and celebrates artistry and strongly supports creative entrepreneurship – and this continues to live on thanks to all of you. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve built. 

When I think of my time at UMG, it occurs to me that my career really started at this company.  I was a creative manager at UMPG 20 years ago, then by 2010 worked as an A&R consultant and manager while building a creative team at UMPG that signed and developed some amazing songwriters such as Cardo, Childish Gambino, Chris Brown, Ciara, Big Sean, Hit Boy, J Cole, Jhene Aiko, Justin Bieber, Miguel, Stacy Barthe and Quavo among many others. In 2014, I was promoted to the position of President of Urban & Co-Head of Creative at UMPG and appointed to President of Motown Records. 

It was a busy time being in dual roles and laying the foundation for what was to come in an industry with an ever-changing landscape. While continuing to build at UMPG, I was also deeply dedicated to bringing a renewed vision of Black excellence to Motown – rooted in the past but connected to today, global in nature and a platform for the future.  In 2015, we signed a landmark deal for Motown with Quality Control which included a distribution agreement ensuring support in developing the next generation of global superstars. By 2016, as that strategy brought Motown success with new groundbreaking artists, Motown became my sole focus as we continued to grow the company with artists including BJ the Chicago Kid, Brandy, Kem, Diddy, Erykah Badu, Lil Baby, Lil Yachty, Migos, Sebastian Kole, Smino, Tiana MAJOR9, YoungBoy and Vince Staples among others. 

The business has changed so much over those twenty years but throughout its ups and downs, I’ve always felt blessed to have the opportunity to work in so many aspects of the industry. My hunger to learn and continue to evolve led me to the unique experience of working across publishing and recorded music simultaneously. The fact that I was empowered to this unique position reflects my passion for supporting those that are blessed with the gift of music but also speaks to the incredible opportunities I was offered here and for that I want to thank Lucian who recognized my talent as a creative in publishing and gave me the opportunity to lead at a label as well.  

But one thing that has never changed is the love I have for music—and the artists, songwriters and producers that make such incredible art.  That continues to drive everything I do professionally, and it always will. 

This is an exciting time in music and I look forward to exploring new creative and entrepreneurial opportunities. I will share more about my future plans but for now I want to focus on winding down my role as we get to the end of the year.

Thank you for this incredible journey. Know that I will always be here to support you all. 

With love, gratitude and respect,

Ethiopia