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It’s Official: Deborah Dugan Named President/CEO of Recording Academy

It’s official: The Recording Academy Board of Trustees has appointed Deborah Dugan as the next President/CEO of the Recording Academy, the society of performers, musicians, songwriters, producers, engineers, and all music professionals, and the organization behind the annual Grammy Awards. Variety reported last month that Dugan had been elected by the board. The appointment was announced today by John Poppo, Chair of the Board. Dugan will formally assume the role of President/CEO on Aug. 1, 2019, replacing Neil Portnow, who had held the role since 2002; he will stay on for an unspecified transition period. 

“I’m honored, humbled, and ready,” said incoming Recording Academy President/CEO Dugan. “The goal of the Recording Academy is to support, encourage, and advocate for those within the music community. I will listen to and champion all of those individuals, and lead this iconic organization into the future. I’m excited to get started.”

“Deborah is a highly accomplished business executive and a visionary leader who also brings to this role a great passion for the mission of the Academy,” said Poppo. “The Board of Trustees is very eager to work with her as we embark on this next chapter in the Recording Academy’s story.”

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.”

Variety spoke with several insiders and former colleagues of Dugan’s last month. One insider said, “Look at everything she’s done — the music industry, the corporate, Wall Street, the pro bono legal work; she’s educated and I don’t know anyone who’d have a bad thing to say about her. I think she’s exactly what the Academy needs.”

According to the announcement, In her role, Dugan will oversee all Recording Academy affairs, working closely with the Academy’s Board of Trustees and senior management team to advance the Academy’s goals and mission. She will drive the creative and strategic vision of the organization and lead the operations of the Academy. Dugan will also serve as President/CEO of MusiCares and on the boards of the Grammy Museum Foundation and The Latin Recording Academy.

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.

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. Along with Dugan, 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.

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.”

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