Warner Music reins to Ames

TW hopes to keep peace by naming ex-Polygram prexy CEO

Seemingly taking the path of least resistance, Time Warner brass have tapped music industry vet Roger Ames as worldwide chairman and CEO of the Warner Music Group.

Naming of Ames was widely viewed in the industry and by WMG insiders as one that would initially cause the least amount of angst among senior WMG execs. If the nod had gone to one of the label group chiefs, insiders suggested, the others were expected to have revolted.

But veteran industry execs expect the Ames nod nonetheless to spark a round of infighting among Warner’s highly competitive label and division chiefs, several of whom had been contenders for the post.

In particular, while Ames is being hailed by corporate parent chieftains as the best man for the job, some music group execs bristle over the prospect of taking directions from a WMG newcomer.

The appointment of Ames had been anticipated, as the former Polygram Music Group prexy was the only exec on the short list of candidates with worldwide experience running a music conglomerate.

The naming of a music czar was put into motion when studio co-chiefs Bob Daly and Terry Semel announced their resignation last month. The duo had also been overseeing the operation of the $4.1 billion WMG.

Naming a worldwide music czar also follows the restructuring of the studio and music outposts that were recently separated and now fall under the aegis of Time Warner prexy Richard Parsons.

WMG headquarters will be moved back to New York from the studio’s Burbank lot where Daly and Semel worked.

Wait and see

Several senior WMG execs surveyed said they were less than thrilled with the Ames hire, but were willing to take a wait-and-see attitude. Many predicted some future skirmishes as Ames moves to install his own team in the coming months.

“Roger looks out for Roger,” said one senior level exec. “The whole industry knows that, apparently except Jerry (Gerald Levin) and Dick (Richard Parsons).”

Parsons told Daily Variety that making the decision to hire Ames “was not a difficult one” noting “in the few months that Roger had inside the company, he had distinguished himself as a de facto leader. (He just) emerged as a natural wonder to take the lead role because of his experience in the worldwide aspects of the business.”

Insiders noted that had one of the label chiefs ascended to the post, it might have destabilized the music group’s upper ranks similar to the chaos caused in 1994 when Warner Bros. chief Mo Ostin was forced out. After the dust settled, several senior music execs had lost their jobs, and WMG was put under Daly and Semel to help restore order.

Polygram background

The hiring of Ames, who officially starts the gig Oct. 4, is a turn of good fortune for the exec who helped shepherd the music operation of the $5.5 billion Polygram before the Dutch outfit was acquired a year ago by Universal Music Group.

Ames recently inked a deal to bring his London Records into the Warner fold through Sire Records Group (Daily Variety, May 6) and was selected by Warner Music Intl. chief Ramon Lopez to succeed him when he retired at the end of 1999.

But in just three months, Ames has gone from succeeding Lopez to becoming his boss.

Ames also takes the job that his former boss at Polygram, Alain Levy, had aggressively tried to land.

Ames said he had not yet spoken with Atlantic Recording Group co-chairman/co-CEO Val Azzoli, who had been in talks to get the post, or Elektra Entertainment chairman Sylvia Rhone, Warner Bros. Records chairman Russ Thyret or prexy Phil Quartararo.

‘Know and respect him’

Parsons said he spoke with the execs and they are “all excited about it. They know Roger, they respect him and like him, and they think this will be a terrific combination.”

Ames said he has no short-term plans and will soon move to New York to get the lay of the WMG land in the coming weeks.

He has a largely uphill battle. WMG’s fortunes have faded in the past five years through a confluence of events including shifts in musical tastes, economic downturns internationally and rising marketing costs.

WMG, which for many years was the market share leader, checks in at fourth place among the big five record congloms, ahead of EMI.

Parsons said Ames is not under any timetable to make changes or shore up WMG’s fortunes.

“This move was done with the long term, not the short term, in mind,” said Parsons, who added he expects Ames “to build his team as he goes forward.

“We’re looking for Roger, over the fullness of time, to grow this thing into the pre-eminent music company,” Parsons said.

Insiders expect the stock of Peter Koepke, Ames’ London Records second-in-command, to rise significantly in the coming months. Ames said the London/Sire deal will go forward as planned.

London brought to prominence All Saints, Harvey Danger and Rammstein.

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