Morris gets U Music nod

Exec to reign over world's largest music company

Seagram has tapped Doug Morris as chairman/CEO of the world’s largest music company, which will be named Universal Music Group. The nod is effective when Seagram completes its acquisition of Polygram and merges the operation into Universal Music Group.

The Morris nod, which had been anticipated, marks the first significant move by the soon-to-be new owners of Polygram to establish their own management team.

Morris will assume the post leading the conglom once the deal is approved by shareholders and regulators, which is expected to take at least four months. (Daily Variety, May 12).

The rise to the world’s music czar caps a whirlwind 35 months for the well-liked and respected Morris, in which he rose from prexy of a startup label to chairman/CEO of the sixth largest music conglom, and now chief of the world’s biggest music company in terms of market share and annual revenues.

The combined company, if measured today, would boast a whopping 23% market share and have nearly $7 billion in annual revenues.

‘Proven ability’

“Doug Morris is an exceptional talent with proven ability to lead the largest company in the music industry,” said Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. “Under Doug’s leadership, we will work to identify the team that will guide the combined music operations. We are looking forward to working together with the Universal and Polygram management teams to build the premier music company of the 21st Century.”

According to sources, Universal Music Intl. prexy Jorgen Larsen will soon be made chairman/CEO of the international operation of the two companies. (Daily Variety, June 15)

Universal execs are still in the process of determining which, if any, Polygram labels will be folded into the new organization or which senior execs will be asked to leave the company.

Bronfman has previously said he expects to save $275 million to $300 million by eliminating redundancies and through restructuring. More than 2,000 of the 15,000 staffers of the combined operation are expected to be pinkslipped.

The announcement of Morris follows Monday’s exit by Polygram prexy/CEO Alain Levy, who was not given a role in the new conglom. Morris and his team will work closely with Jan Cook, who was named CEO of Polygram, during the transition period.

“I am truly excited by this opportunity and challenge,” said Morris. “My colleagues at Universal Music and I are looking forward to working with Polygram’s executives to solidify our management organization throughout the world.”

Maximize strengths

Morris said the goal of the new company will be “to maximize our strengths and capabilities so that we can begin to capitalize on the worldwide opportunities that exist.”

Morris joined Universal in November 1995, just four months after bowing Rising Tide Entertainment, an unprecedented joint-venture with the then dubbed MCA Music Entertainment Group. Morris succeeded Al Teller in the chairman/CEO post.

Rising Tide was later renamed Universal Records, which operated under the direction of Morris, Universal vice chairman Mel Lewinter and Daniel Glass, and became one of the industry’s most successful startup record labels. It’s success solidified Morris reputation as a record man and not merely a corporate suit.

“Doug has the rare combination of management expertise and creative sensibility. He is a unique executive who speaks both a business and artistic language,” said Ron Meyer, prexy/chief operating officer, Universal Studios, Inc.

Since the ascension to music czar, Morris has re-energized Universal by attracting and recruiting some of the music industry’s top exec talents and artists. Morris also led the charge of Universal’s 50% acquisition of Interscope Records from Time Warner, which jettisoned the label during a controversy over rap lyrics. The label’s releases fed Universal’s distribution pipeline during the first few months of Morris’ rein.

Universal Music Group has also achieved success with a diverse contingent of acts such as Chumbawamba, Erykah Badu, George Strait, the Wallflowers, No Doubt, Aqua, Sublime, K-Ci & JoJo, Diana Krall and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.

Morris toiled in the Warner Music empire for 17 years, during which time he ran Atlantic Records and transformed it into the No. 1 company within the Warner Music Group and an envied record company within the industry.

He was named CEO and later chairman of Warner Music U.S., the domestic layer of the Time Warner music group, but was ousted in a management shakeup a day before he was to become the worldwide chief.