Since moving to the U.S. side of the recorded music business in 2006, Rob Stringer, the Columbia Records chairman and CEO who has been named chief executive of Sony Music Entertainment, has built his career on developing superstar acts including Adele, Beyonce, Calvin Harris and Daft Punk and extending the careers of and legacies of such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand and the late David Bowie. But even going back to his time at Sony Music UK, which named him chairman in 2001, he played a key role in successes by George Michael, Jamiroquai and Sade, among others.
Longtime Stringer friend and colleague Simon Cowell, whose company Syco is partnered with Columbia on releases by acts like One Direction and Susan Boyle (and soon, America’s Got Talent‘s Grace Vanderwaal), praises his fellow Brit: “If he believes in you, he believes in you,” Cowell tells Billboard. “And I know it sounds like a cliche, but he talks the talk and he walks the walk. I always believe there are about 25 Rob Stringers in the world because everywhere you go in the world — whether it’s a concert or a meeting — there is Rob.”
Indeed, Stringer has long been a fixture at concerts big and small, going back to the show that ignited his passion for music: The Clash. And coworkers past and present say his A&R chops are to be admired.
Says Columbia Records evp and gm Joel Klaiman: “With A&R, there’s always something right around the corner and Rob cultivates this: be aggressive, be out there looking. He’s got this incredible filter for great talent.”
“His musical taste is not the obvious,” says Lisa Ellis, an alum of Sony Music. “He never takes the easy route to a signing. He likes music and artists that are different, left-of-center, and that can carve their own space in the current environment. He might sign something that everyone else has passed on or perhaps missed. He doesn’t want any fluff or window dressing when it comes to artistry or a marketing/promotion/sales plan. He wants everything to be authentic and honest … no smoke and mirrors. It’s got to be the truth.”
“It’s usually the case that when someone becomes an executive in our business, they are either a ‘music executive’ or a ‘business executive’ — Rob is both,” says Jody Gerson, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group and a longtime executive at Sony/ATV. “I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Stringer and Denis Handlin, the chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment Australia and New Zealand and President, Asia, share a particularly strong bond. Both execs have served with Sony Music through their careers, and they’ve been close friends for three decades.
Stringer made the trip to Sydney in October 2014 for the 30th anniversary of Handlin running the Australian company.
‘I am absolutely thrilled for Rob Stringer with his appointment to CEO,” Handlin tells Billboard. “Rob and I have worked together for over 30 years and I have tremendous respect for him both personally and professionally. Rob is a passionate music man through and through. His instinct and dedication to artists and their music is incomparable. He has the best relationships in the business and together with his unwavering love for music, I truly believe that this is a very exciting time for Sony Music.”
Attorney Donald Passman, who literally wrote the book on the music business, calls Stringer, “One of the truly great guys in the music biz, with enormous creative chops, deep artist relations, and a British sense of humor (humour).”
Martin Kirkup, whose Direct Management Group handles Katy Perry and Adam Lambert, says, “Rob is a great leader, with a strong grasp of the global market, as well as a deep understanding of the needs of artists. That combination is essential in facing the challenges of today’s evolving music business.”
And even the tech world is chiming in, with YouTube’s chief business officer Robert Kyncl telling Billboard, “We look forward to working with such an accomplished and forward-thinking leader in the music industry to collaborate on efforts that support artists and their fans on YouTube.”
Adds Shawn Holiday, svp, A&R, for Columbia and Sony/ATV: “It’s exciting times ahead. Rob is a trailblazer in this business. For anyone who works with him, he constantly challenges us to always be smart, plan ahead and fight for our artists. With the Solange rollout, he was very supportive of a lot of ideas. And as you can see, it panned out [Solange scored her first Billboard 200 No. 1 with A Seat at the Table]. This move will also be a good one as the industry moves forward on streaming and other issues. Rob is the best one I trust to put in the forefront of that.”
More to come, no doubt.
Reporting by Lars Brandle, Andrew Flanagan, Andy Gensler, Shirley Halperin, Gail Mitchell and Melinda Newman