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Sony/ATV’s Upheaval at the Top: What Went Down Behind the Scenes

With Martin Bandier's 2019 exit comes the arrival of former protege Jon Platt as his successor.

UPDATED: Hours before Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman Martin Bandier was due to take the stage at the 14th annual Songs of Hope benefit, a fundraising gala for City of Hope held at producer Alex Da Kid’s Sherman Oaks “Kompound,” he was needed for an important call. On the phone was a representative for Sony Corporate in Japan who informed Bandier that Jon Platt, the executive he helped mentor for 17 years at EMI Music Publishing, would succeed him at Sony/ATV when Bandier’s contract is up at the end of March 2019.

Bandier, 77, was none too thrilled. He had always insisted — even publicly — that he would name his own successor, which many thought was sure to be Guy Moot, head of Sony/ATV’s U.K. office and the company’s worldwide president of creative. It was long anticipated that Moot, who arrived at ATV as a talent scout in 1984, would be handed the reins. He was said to be irate at the news.

A veteran of the publishing business whose career stretches back to the early 1970s, Bandier is regarded (rightfully) as a titan of the sector. He started out as an attorney, then in 1975 began a long partnership with industry giant Charles Koppelman that culminated in the sale of their SBK label and publishing company to EMI for some $340 million in 1989. Bandier took the helm of EMI Music Publishing and turned the combined companies into an industry powerhouse that was frequently named Publisher of the Year and spawned some of the industry’s strongest executives, including Platt, Universal Music Publishing CEO Jody Gerson and president Evan Lamberg. He ran EMI from 1990 to 2005.

In 2007, Bandier left for Sony/ATV — and within five years had guided the consortium (led by private equity firm Mubadala) that purchased EMI Music Publishing for some $2.2 billion, including a large percentage for Sony/ATV that will become 100% via a recent separate deal that is pending regulatory approval. Sony’s purchase of 60% equity interest in EMI cost the company $2.3 billion and was put into motion in May. In July, Sony acquired the remaining 25.1% stake from the Estate of Michael Jackson for $287.5 million, making EMI a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony.

Along the way, Bandier has not only built Sony/ATV into the world’s largest music publisher — it counts The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Carole King, Kraftwerk, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Sting, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Hank Williams and Stevie Wonder among the thousands of songwriters in its repertoire —  he’s engineered some of the industry’s biggest deals, including EMI’s purchase of the Motown catalog and the Sony Corporation’s $750 million acquisition of half of Sony/ATV.

Sony/ATV was the No. 1 company on Billboard’s Publisher’s Quarterly chart for five straight years; from May 2017 until May 2018, it had a piece of each song that topped the Billboard Hot 100.

But as much market share as Sony/ATV gained, it lost in executive talent who grew weary of waiting for the undetermined day that Bandier would step down — and became formidable competitors. While Platt did not follow Bandier from EMI to Sony/ATV, he joined Warner/Chappell in 2012 and was elevated to chairman and CEO in 2015 — and last fall broke Sony/ATV’s five-year-long reign at the top of Billboard’s Publisher’s Quarterly. Gerson, who did, took over as CEO of UMPG at the top of 2015.

Left internally at Sony/ATV were other contenders, like senior executives Danny Strick and Brian Monaco and, of course, Moot. According to multiple sources, there was a feeling inside the company that Bandier wasn’t ready to relinquish the position, and perhaps thought — or hoped — that deft navigation of the Mubadala deal would buy him some more time. Executives at the company continued to demur even discussion of a successor.

So why the sudden change, and why now? For starters, Sony’s publishing arm could use more diversity, and there are few more capable publishing executives — of color or otherwise — than Platt, who counts among his signings Jay-Z (who will present him with the prestigious Spirit of Hope honor at the City of Hope’s Music, Film and Entertainment Industry Group’s ceremony next month), Beyonce (who today announced a performance at Platt’s City of Hope fete), Diddy, Drake and many others — several of whom followed him from EMI to Warner/Chappell (along with Lin Manuel Miranda, DJ Khaled, Rihanna and more).

Stringer also may have been hoping to avoid the sort of years-long exit that Sony has undergone with legendary executive Clive Davis, now 86, who fought — fiercely and ultimately successfully — an attempt by Sony’s former management to force his retirement nearly 20 years ago. After a decade of success with Alicia Keys, Rod Stewart, Jamie Foxx, Luther Vandross and Monica, among others, Davis has settled into a senior role at the parent company, where he remains chief creative officer.

Also, while Bandier had reported into Tokyo, a stipulation that concerned the Michael Jackson estate’s stake in Sony/ATV, the publisher’s chief job could just as easily come under the purview of Sony Music’s CEO. Stringer didn’t press the issue as he transitioned from Columbia chief to his elevated role in April 2017, but a change would make sense, as the industry continues to shift from a transactional business to one of consumption, and revenue streams change along with it. However, although several sources told Variety that Platt will report directly to Stringer, a Sony spokesperson insists the reporting structure will remain the same, with “Sony/ATV reporting to Sony Corporate” — in other words, Bandier’s successor, whom the rep declined to identify by name, will report to Sony Corp. President/CEO Kenishiro Yoshida in Tokyo, rather than Stringer.

So why would Platt leave Warner/Chappell where he’s made tremendous inroads in terms of market share and prestige?- And more mystifying: why would Warner Music let him out of his contract early? The age-old “offer you can’t refuse” comes to mind, and includes, according to an insider, a significant pay bump and favorable contract for Platt that WMG couldn’t match. But more than that is the personal and professional achievement of running the biggest publishing house in the world and one whose foundation he helped build back at EMI. It’s a sort of “homecoming,” describes one executive close to Platt — who adds that there’s a palpable excitement in the air.

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