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Deborah Dugan to Succeed Neil Portnow as Recording Academy Chief

Deborah Dugan, CEO of the nonprofit AIDS organization (RED), has been selected to succeed Neil Portnow as the Recording Academy’s president/CEO, a source close to the situation confirmed to Variety. She will replace outgoing president/CEO Neil Portnow in July; the news was first reported by Billboard.

Reps for the Academy and for Dugan either had no comment or did not respond to requests for comment. A source close to the situation tells Variety that even high-ranking executives at the Academy have not been informed of the move.

Dugan brings music-business experience to her new role, having worked from 1990-98 first at SBK Records, and then at EMI/Capitol Records after the companies merged; she worked in the legal department and ultimately rose to executive VP. She joined (RED) as the organization’s CEO in 2011, and prior to that role worked as president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, a $2 billion retail division of the Walt Disney Company.

Her Twitter profile states she is an “EDM fan” and is also co-chair of The Moth, a New York-based non-profit that aims “to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience.”

Insiders told Variety last month that the Academy, with the assistance of its executive search firm Korn Ferry, was seeking only CEO-level candidates, who could also run the organization “for the next 15 years,” and who has the business acumen to run the $60 million operation, which includes not just producing the annual Grammy Awards, but also growing a membership of 22,000 and overseeing 12 local chapters.

Dugan appears to meet those criteria, and her role at (RED) — which was founded in 2006 by U2 singer Bono and activist/attorney Bobby Shriver and has raised more than $500 million — shows that she is also accustomed to working with rock stars of the highest caliber.

As Variety reported earlier this month, the Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees met with and voted upon candidates to succeed Portnow in the last week of March by silent ballot, and few people were informed of the result until a contract was signed. The level of secrecy employed in the process is evidenced by the fact that Dugan’s name was not mentioned in any of the many reports speculating about Portnow’s replacement. Among those names were Academy Board of Trustees vice chair Ruby Marchand and Darryl Friedman, the Academy’s Washington, DC-based Chief Industry, Government, & Member Relations Officer. Recording Academy veteran and hit songwriter/producer Jimmy Jam was also said to be under consideration.

An official announcement is not expected until late May, although the news leak could hasten that process. Portnow will stay on through the transition period, although it was unclear how long that period might last.

Many felt the Academy must have a female chief after the uproar that surrounded the low female representation at the 2018 Grammys and Portnow’s unfortunate comment after the show that female artists and executives need to “step up” to receive greater recognition; there is little question that Portnow’s decision to exit his post, which he is slated to do in July, was influenced by that statement and his frequently criticized reactions to it.

While the 2019 Grammy winners and show featured a substantially stronger female presence, a single year’s improvement will not solve the problem, which the Academy formed a task force, led by former Obama White House official Tina Tchen, to help rectify; thus far it has produced few tangible results, although it says invitations have been extended to some 900 potential female and minority new members. Speaking to Variety in February, Tchen said, “One of the things we’ve learned over the last year is that the recording industry, like other industries, has got a problem with diversity and inclusion … in every corner of the workplace.”

The Academy has had few female executives in senior executive positions in recent years. Marchand and Laura Segura Mueller, the Academy’s vp membership & industry relations, are the highest-ranking women in the organization’s leadership;

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