Warner Music Nashville is firming up its succession plan as chairman/CEO John “Espo” Esposito prepares to transition to chairman emeritus in early 2023, sources tell Billboard.
As early as later this spring, sources expect WMN to announce that Ben Kline and Cris Lacy, who have long been mentioned as Esposito’s successors, will take over running the day-to-day running of the company in a phased transition. In 2019, the pair were both promoted — Kline to executive vp/general manager and Lacy to executive vp/A&R.
That same year the well-regarded Esposito signed a new multi-year contract. In an interview with Billboard about his new deal, he acknowledged that Kline and Lacy were his likely heir apparents: “I’m putting all sorts of weight on their shoulders. And the great news is since we did that promotion, they both have risen to an even higher level,” he said. “I’m happy knowing I can give them so much to do so they can become as much the face of the label as me. And that has taken a weight off of me. If I walk in the room, [people] assume I can make the final decision. Now they know that either of them can make a decision [too].”
However, in the same interview, he stressed that he has “to be involved in the entertainment business until the day I die because I like the action.”
WMG declined to comment for this story.
In his emeritus role, the expectation is that he will remain vitally involved in strategy and long-range planning, as well as in an advisory role. Esposito and his boss, Warner Music Group’s Recorded Music CEO Max Lousada, have been discussing the transition for some months, sources say.
Esposito took over WMN in 2009, after seven years at WEA Corp., where he served as president/CEO of WMG’s sales and marketing division, as well as overseeing Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA) and Independent Label Group (ILG).
The only artist on the roster when he took over that is still there is Blake Shelton, who became a superstar under Esposito. ” We were always the last stop for every artist visit of all the labels in town,” Esposito told Billboard. “I had to get that switched around by giving them confidence we could win together And God bless, Brett Eldredge was the first one I signed.”
Lacy, who joined WMN in 2005, leads the A&R team in signing new artists and working with them on repertoire. She also oversees the department’s day-to-day operations.
Kline joined the company in 2014 as vp of revenue and was elevated to senior vp, global revenue & touring in 2017.