NEW YORK — In a high-profile departure for Bertelsmann’s BMG Entertainment, longtime music exec Rudi Gassner will step down as CEO of the group’s international unit, effective Jan. 31.
The division, which oversees BMG Entertainment operations outside North America as well as BMG Classics, will now report directly to the company’s worldwide CEO, Strauss Zelnick.
Gassner spent 13 years at BMG building up the company’s international business to more than 200 labels, with the philosophy of building up local repertoire.
BMG Entertainment is the $4.6 billion worldwide music and entertainment division of Bertelsmann. Under Gassner’s guidance, the international org has seen revenues triple since 1987.
He started reporting to Zelnick after a corporate reshuffle several years ago and relations between the two have been very strained.
In an interview with Daily Variety, Gassner declined to discuss BMG’s corporate politics. “I’m 57 years old now, and I want to stay in the business for some more years. It seemed like a good time to take another step,” he said.
He’s exploring a number of opportunities, all of which would involve launching a new venture, alone or with a partner. He may even be considering setting up shop with Arista head Clive Davis, who has his own bone to pick with Zelnick.
Davis and his friends and supporters were upset last November when Zelnick appointed Antonio “L.A.” Reid as Arista president and Davis’ successor, arguing that Arista — a big label and key piece of BMG’s business — needed a succession plan. The Davis camp viewed the move as a bold attempt to oust the vet music exec.
BMG is currently negotiating with Davis, who has said he may go off and start his own company.
Sources said that Gassner blames Zelnick for nearly derailing a lucrative distribution deal with Clive Calder’s Zomba Records. Zomba is 20% owned by BMG.