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Lyor Cohen ankles WMG

Veteran exec was chairman-CEO of recorded music for the label group

After eight years at the helm, Warner Music Group recorded music chairman-CEO Lyor Cohen is resigning from the company as of Sunday.

According to the company, WMG senior executives will now report directly to CEO Stephen Cooper.

Cohen’s exit follows months of rumors intimating the exec’s possible departure from the company.

Rumblings throughout the industry said that Cohen had clashed with the company’s new leadership over the direction of the operation. Late last year, WMG abruptly stepped away from the auction of EMI Music’s label assets.

One scenario that has been swirling for several months posited Roger Faxon, the outgoing CEO of EMI, as a potential successor for Cohen. Faxon will exit his EMI post on Friday, following last Friday’s completion of Universal Music Group’s $1.9 billion purchase of EMI’s labels (Daily Variety, Sept. 24).

Cohen joined WMG from Universal’s Island Def Jam Music Group, where he was chairman-CEO, in 2004, following the purchase of WMG from Time Warner by a consortium of investors led by Edgar Bronfman, Jr. He made his name as a co-founder with Russell Simmons at rap powerhouse Rush Management and at Def Jam Records.

Last year, WMG was sold to industrialist Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries for $3.3 billion. Following the sale, former CEO Bronfman exchanged roles with Cooper, a corporate clean-up expert who was brought in as chairman by Blavatnik. Bronfman himself exited the executive suite in January, but he remains on the WMG board.

During Cohen’s tenure at WMG, the company’s labels developed a roster that included such top acts as Blake Shelton, Bruno Mars, Flo Rida, Jason Mraz, Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Muse, Cee Lo Green and the Zac Brown Band, among others.

Nonetheless, WMG now stands as a distant third among the three major label groups. The company commanded just 19.1% of total U.S. album market share in 2011.

Cohen said in a parting statement, “To all the artists and employees who live and die for the music every day, and who personally sacrifice for the good of the creative process: ‘keep on keepin’ on’ in the tradition of a company that respects and honors the artistic community.”

Blavatnik called Cohen “both a business partner and a personal friend and I wish him only the best.”

Cooper said, “Lyor Cohen has built something very special here. While we understand his desire to move on to his next challenge, the enduring success of our recorded music division will serve as a great testament to the progress we’ve made during Lyor’s time at WMG. We are grateful for Lyor’s contributions, and we wish him the best. I’m confident that given the strength of our talented management team in Recorded Music, we’ll be able to drive further success.”

Cohen’s departure could theoretically have further ripples among the WMG exec ranks, since it is heavily laden with execs handpicked by the outgoing topper.

In July 2011, an executive shake-up saw Rob Cavallo, formerly WMG chief creative officer under Cohen, take the reins as chairman of Warner Bros. Records. Todd Moscowitz and Livia Tortella, both close associates of Cohen’s, were elevated to co-president-CEO and co-president-COO at WBR, respectively. Craig Kallman and Julie Greenwald (another longtime Cohen associate) remain chairman-CEO and chairman-COO, respectively, at Atlantic Records Group.

Former WEA prexy-CEO John Esposito took over as prexy of Warner Music Nashville in September 2009.

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