For the first time, the Recording Academy will have a separate CEO and president — or make that presidents. Starting Aug. 16, Recording Academy president/CEO Harvey Mason jr. — who accepted that role on a permanent-basis in May — will relinquish half of his title to co-presidents Valeisha Butterfield Jones and Panos A. Panay, restructuring the organization’s executive suite.
Butterfield Jones — who was hired as the academy’s first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer in May 2020 after four years as Google’s global head of inclusion — will retain her existing responsibilities and now oversee membership, awards, advocacy and related initiatives. Panay, who founded and ran Sonicbids and will join the academy from Berklee College of Music, where he was senior vp of global strategy and innovation, will also become chief revenue officer.
“The three of us will be operating as a unit as we strengthen every system in every part of our organization from the inside out,” says Butterfield Jones.
The new co-presidents assume their roles at a period of dramatic change for the academy. The previous CEO, Deborah Dugan, was ousted after five months, in January 2020, just 10 days before that year’s Grammy Award ceremony. (The organization accused her of workplace bullying. She filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination complaint alleging she was terminated because she had threatened to expose misconduct. Arbitration hearings are scheduled to begin July 12.) Since then, as board chair and interim president/CEO, Mason has instituted a major structural reorganization, overseen new diversity initiatives for incoming voting member classes and, in April, led a board of trustees vote to disband nomination-review committees. After a lengthy search process to hire a new president/CEO, Mason was named to the role permanently on May 13 and recently told Billboard that a hiring search is underway for in-house counsel.
“We had come to a place where we needed to do things differently,” says Mason, adding the move represents “an opportunity to build a dynamic new leadership team,” to focus on growth and innovation.
On June 2, the academy’s board of trustees also announced its new slate of elected officers: Tammy Hurt as chair, Rico Love as vice chair and Om’Mas Keith as secretary/treasurer. Christina Albert returned as chair emeritus. “Developing the academy for the 21st century as part of this amazing group,” adds Panay, “I’m energized and inspired by the opportunity to do good and do well.”
In their first interview together, Mason, Butterfield Jones and Panay talk about the next steps in the academy’s continuing transformation:
How do you envision what your new roles will encompass?
Butterfield Jones: It’s been a difficult year for music creators because of COVID-19. So with the return to everyday business, we’re thinking about our membership — which will be part of my remit — and how we truly deepen our partnership with them and across the industry. That will remain a key part of what we do and won’t change. It’s also important to say that the three of us will be operating as a unit. We bring a lot of different talents, skills and backgrounds to what we do. So we’re excited about the work that we’ll be doing together and, as Panos says all the time, deploying those skills across the organization as we need them. Staff culture, membership and awards will be part of what I do while thinking about how we strengthen every system in every part of our organization from the inside out. So while internal work will be a key focus for me, we’ll be doing it together as a unit.
Panay: This is a time of change in the music industry. It’s a time where our membership needs a strong academy with a big platform that’s able to help them deal with the great opportunities that are ahead, but also the great challenges that are facing musicians because of COVID and all the technological changes that have affected the industry. I’ve been in the music industry for 27 years in various roles, starting as a talent agent booking artists like Chick Corea, Nina Simone and Leonard Cohen. I started Sonicbids in 2000, one of the first successful online companies that connects bands and music promoters with over a million gigs booked. Then at Berklee I was in charge of global strategy and overall strategic direction as well as innovation. Ultimately for me, the attraction of this job is having the honor to serve an institution I grew up admiring, developing the academy for the 21st century as part of this amazing group I’m energized and inspired by and being given the opportunity to do good and do well.
Harvey, Valeisha was already in-house after a DEI executive search that began in December 2019. But how did Panos come to your attention?
Mason: Panos was actually somebody that I met during the CEO search. I really love his vision and entrepreneurial edge. He’s so involved in technology; looking around the corners to see what’s coming for not only our industry but a lot of industries. As I’ve said, I want to attract top talent to help us do really important work. A lot of what we’re trying to do is not just grow the academy. We also want to make sure we’re servicing our members and industry partners with everything possible. So when I meet a Panos or have the opportunity to reposition [an executive like] Valeisha, I’m doing it with the perspective of how can this benefit the members and our partnerships within the industry.
What is one thing you want accomplish by this time next year?
Butterfield Jones: I’d love for us collectively to set a North Star for where we want to go as an organization and how we’re going to drive that impact. It’s not about doing it in a silo. We want to make sure that we’re working from the inside out of the academy and collaboratively with our music partners to better serve music creators and our members. And as Harvey says, it’s about having a bias for action, doing the work and getting results while measuring every step of the way. Accountability will be a key focus, looking across everything we do with a critical eye. Then making sure that we’re setting high goals and reaching them year over year. So in one year, we will have that vision set and be working toward it. We’re at a real inflection point as an organization. I can say in my 13 or 14 months here that this is an organization that’s ready for change, ready for the pivot and this new leadership.
Panay: The industry is becoming a globalized world where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. Part of our job as an academy is to create as many opportunities for members to develop meaningful, sustainable careers for the future. I’d like us as an academy to continue growing our global presence, accelerating the change that’s already been started and embracing the technological transformation that our industry is undergoing. It takes 3000 streams to make a minimum wage, right? As the academy, we’re in the position to embrace the “sciences” part of its full name: National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. To really be a leader in not only understanding, but helping to educate and advocate on behalf of our members in terms of how ultimately these new platforms ought to not only respect the livelihoods of artists, but should be there to help them grow and take them to the next level.
Harvey’s vision for this management structure is so cutting edge. Actually, you will see more and more organizations putting together [leadership]collectives of talent. This is the only way that organizations of all kinds will be able to anticipate and lead toward the future. That’s what we are attempting to do as a collective and as a broader team.
Mason: In 64 years, we’ve done some important and amazing things especially in providing much-needed support of our music community during COVID-19. But I have very big goals and aspirations for what I think we can accomplish with this team. The three of us have been talking a lot about “leveling up.” How do we level up all of our processes and initiatives, all of our staff, membership, awards and services? In the last year to 18 months, we’ve been looking at everything with a critical eye to find ways to improve all we do. We also know there’s some transformation that still needs to happen. But at the end of this first year, as we stride toward more change and improvement, I want to have also fostered our growth mindset. We can be a better, stronger academy and industry partner.
A version of this story will appear in the June 26, 2021, issue of Billboard.