Ouster at Motown

Harrell exits; Goldberg likely to oversee label

From the day Andre Harrell was tapped as president and CEO of Motown Records by Polygram prexy-CEO Alain Levy in October 1995, the hiring was widely viewed in the music industry as a head-scratcher (Daily Variety, Oct. 2, 1995).

But Harrell’s departure from the label Thursday raised far fewer eyebrows, as the ouster practically had been predicted since the day the former Uptown Records chief took the job and began an expensive and politically dangerous campaign of self-promotion shortly thereafter.

Harrell will leave the label with a seven-figure severance check representing his salary due on the remaining years of his employment pact.

His lack of a potent release slate and album successes also telegraphed his early demise. Insiders said Harrell’s interest in beefing up Motown’s film and TV operations also initially distracted him from the core music business.

But his failure to turn the venerable label around after a lackluster run by label chief Jheryl Busby is even more pronounced when compared with the successes so far logged by Mercury Records prexy and CEO Danny Goldberg, who was installed weeks after Harrell and also was charged with reviving a mostly moribund label.

While Goldberg was filling Mercury’s pipeline with album releases from a variety of sources, Harrell was instituting a slash-and-burn campaign at the label in an effort to reduce overhead and shore up profits. He also closed Motown’s L.A. offices.

Goldberg likely will oversee the operation of Motown through a corporate ascension, which is being determined.

Harrell also clashed a year ago with Motown’s star attraction and resident bill-payers, Boyz II Men, who inked a label production deal with Sony after being rebuffed by Harrell.

The deal, and Harrell’s decision to repackage the group’s tunes without consulting them, irreparably strained the quartet’s relationship with the label. Thanks to their debut disc topping 14 million copies, Boyz II Men was Motown’s biggest-selling artist, but the group did not release an album during Harrell’s tenure.

Industry observers noted at the time of Harrell’s appointment that Levy seemed to ignore the cost-heavy structure Harrell created at Uptown, which spent a lot of money on its handful of high-profile successes, according to sources.

The hiring of Harrell, the departure earlier this year of Island Records chief John Barbis and the overall corporate vibe at the conglom have contributed to earn Polygram the distinction of being the most dysfunctional of the big six — a characterization until recently reserved for BMG’s North American arm.

None of the parties involved would comment.

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