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New Recording Academy Chief Elected, but Result Remains Secret

The Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees held a silent ballot vote last week.

The Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees last week met with and voted upon candidates to succeed outgoing president/CEO Neil Portnow — however, the vote was a silent ballot and few people will be informed of the result until a contract is signed, a source close to the situation tells Variety.

No time frame was given for when the contract will be signed and the new CEO is announced to the Board of Trustees, the source said, adding that the procedure is intentionally designed to prevent leaks — “You can’t leak what you don’t know” — and complications that might arise before the candidate and Academy agree upon terms.

The candidates were said to include board vice chair Ruby Marchand and Darryl Friedman, the Academy’s Washington, DC-based Chief Industry, Government, & Member Relations Officer. At least one and as many as three other candidates were considered, although one candidate from a major music company was said to have pulled out the day before the meeting. Recording Academy veteran and hit songwriter/producer Jimmy Jam — who, with longtime musical partner Terry Lewis, was singled out by Janet Jackson during her induction speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Friday night — is also said to be under consideration.

The Academy is expected to make an official announcement in late May, with Portnow staying on through the transition period, although it was unclear how long that period might last.

Many observers have said that the traditional role of CEO/president is too big for one person and advocated for more of the CEO/COO, creative/management dual-leadership model that has been embraced by several major music companies, including Atlantic (with chairman/CEO Craig Kallman and chairman/COO Julie Greenwald), and Warner Bros. Records (Aaron Bay-Schuck and Tom Corson) as well as the new leadership team at Warner/Chappell Music Publishing (Guy Moot and Carianne Marshall). Some insiders feel that Jam could thrive in the creative role in such a model.

Insiders told Variety earlier this 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.

The source added that the decision to look only at chief executives doesn’t bode well for female candidates. Indeed, the Fortune 500 list of 2018 CEOs included only 24 women, or 4.8% of the total number. It also runs counter to hopes that the next chairman of the Academy will be a woman.

Many feel 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.”

Yet even if the next Recording Academy CEO is female, “They’re not going to put a strong woman, like a Michele Anthony [Universal Music Group exec VP] or a Julie Swidler [Sony Music exec VP of business affairs and general counsel], in that job,” one source told Variety. “It’s going to be the same old white men calling the shots,” a scenario that could also include a female CEO heavily influenced by the Board of Trustees.

Reps for the Recording Academy did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment.

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