Board member tapped to replace Southgate

In a somewhat unusual move, a member of EMI’s board of directors has been tapped to succeed chairman Colin Southgate.

The 60-year-old Southgate will retire July 31 and be replaced by Eric Nicoli, a 48-year-old music industry neophyte but successful corporate chieftain.

The move ends speculation over the timing of Southgate’s exit and his successor. Deputy chairman and finance director Simon Duffy and EMI Recorded Music CEO Ken Berry were widely thought to be on the short list of potential successors since the exit last year of Jim Fifield.

Fifield had been in line to become Southgate’s hand-picked successor, but failed to get the board’s approval in February 1998 (Daily Variety, Feb. 23, 1998). He stepped down three months later and nabbed a $20 million exit package.

But Berry, who ascended into Fifield’s spot along with EMI Music Publishing CEO Martin Bandier, had told friends he didn’t want the bigger gig and was busy reshaping EMI’s music assets.

Move from United Biscuits

Nicoli, a non-executive member of the EMI board since 1993, will segue to the London-based music conglom from his post as CEO of United Biscuits, where he oversaw that outfit’s international operation in more than 30 countries.

The selection of Nicoli, an exec known for his overseas strategic growth and financial acumen who is familiar with EMI’s core businesses through his board service, suggests that the conglom’s U.S. chiefs will continue to operate unimpeded.

“I believe that in Ken and Martin, EMI already has two outstanding music executives,” Southgate said. “Eric has an excellent working relationship with (both of them) and will bring complementary strengths to the group.”

EMI insiders gave thumbs-up to the choice and noted that Nicoli’s ability to deal with complicated marketing issues around the world will be an asset in help-ing EMI expand its reach in countries beyond its U.K. stronghold.

“My decision to (join EMI) was driven largely by my high regard for the senior management whom I have come to know well,” said Nicoli, who officially joins EMI on May 1 as chairman designate, in order to better learn the lay of the EMI land before Southgate’s exit.

Lower earnings for year

But Southgate — who orchestrated the restructuring of the company into two core businesses (recorded music and music publishing) and a de-merger from parent Thorn — doesn’t exactly leave on a high note: Stock of the London-based firm was recently downgraded by analysts, and the company is expected to post lower earnings for the fiscal year, which ends this month. Results will be announced in May.

EMI is home to the Virgin, Blue Note and Capitol Records labels whose rosters collectively include Spice Girls, the Verve, Garth Brooks, Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones and the Beastie Boys.

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