Big shakeup rocking EMI

When music industry telephone lines began buzzing early Friday morning over rumors that Charles Koppelman and Terri Santisi, two of the highest-ranking execs of EMI Music, were abruptly dismissed, few were inclined to believe them, since they’d been spread so often before.

The dismissal has yet to be officially announced or acknowledged, but sources said Koppelman called his label chiefs on Saturday and gave them the news.

EMI sources said the pair had been dismissed “for cause” — an often-used but nebulous term that asserts they had somehow violated their fiduciary duty to the corporation.

Neither Koppelman nor Santisi would comment on their departures for this story.

Koppelman’s exit Friday ended a four-year run atop EMI’s North American operation marked by equal amounts of brilliance and hubris.

He orchestrated successful album compilation campaigns such as the Beatles’ “Anthology” series, Garth Brooks’ “The Hits” package — sold through McDonald’s — and Frank Sinatra’s “Duets” sets.

Expensive deals

But he slashed artist rosters and fired talented execs at the labels he oversaw, and made expensive deals, such as recently signing singer Luther Vandross to a lucrative recording pact. The pricetag for the Vandross deal was well over $40 million.

Koppelman was also often criticized for relying heavily on catalog, rather than current releases, to earn revenues, or “make the numbers,” which he always seemed to do.

But talk of his impending exit was nothing new, and industry snipers seemingly always had the brash, cigar-smoking Koppelman, chairman and CEO of the EMI-Capitol Music Group North America, in their cross hairs. The Los Angeles Times once dubbed Koppelman the “most hated man in the music business.” Rampant speculation about the potential sale of EMI conjectured that Koppelman and exec veep/G.M. Santisi would soon be out of the exec suites of one of the largest music congloms in the world.

Berry likely to step in

It is expected that Ken Berry, chairman and CEO of the Virgin Music Group and the prexy/CEO of EMI Records Group Intl. (the overseas counterpart to EMI North America), will assume Koppelman’s duties.

Both men reported directly to EMI Music prexy and CEO Jim Fifield, who is expected to announce the departures and a reorganization today, when the company announces its yearly earnings for the fiscal year, which ended March 31.

Ironically, the exit comes as EMI North America went from a single-digit market share last year to third place among the Big Six record companies, behind Warner Music’s WEA and Universal.

The market share increase can be primarily attributed to releases from Virgin Records, such as the Spice Girls, Smashing Pumpkins, Tina Turner and Blur; and Capitol, whose release slate boasts Meredith Brooks, the soundtrack to “Romeo & Juliet” and Luscious Jackson, among others.

Koppelman out of character

EMI family execs suspected something was amiss when Koppelman, who was in L.A. last week, did not communicate with many of his execs during the trip, and was slow to return telephone calls. Both were uncharacteristic of the exec, whose carpe diem philosophy was well known.

He left early Friday morning, just hours before staffers in New York, many of whom had already left for the three-day weekend, were informed.

The move closes the latest chapter of Koppelman’s 30-year tenure in the music business. He began at a music publisher and later was an exec at CBS Records, where he signed Billy Joel, Dave Mason, Journey and Janis Ian.

After adding the duties previously held by then-Capitol-EMI prexy/CEO Joe Smith, who was forced out in a power struggle (Daily Variety, Jan. 7, 1993), Koppelman reorganized and restructured the Capitol, EMI, Liberty and Angel Records labels, among others, as well as EMI’s distribution and marketing arms.

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