The chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment Australia and New Zealand, Denis Handlin, has left the company “effective immediately” amid a cloud of controversy surrounding the local firm.

Considered the most powerful man in the Australian music industry, having overseen the careers of Australian musical artists including Silverchair, The Veronicas and Delta Goodrem, he was also, according to his company biography, “the longest serving global Sony Music employee,” having started at the company in 1970.

He was appointed chairman and CEO of the Australian and New Zealand operation in 2004, when it was still Sony BMG.

As well as overseeing Australia and New Zealand, he was also responsible for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, the Middle East region, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Earlier this week, Sony Music Group chairman Rob Stringer reportedly sent an internal email sent to staff announcing Handlin’s unexpected departure.

Over recent weeks allegations have been bubbling in the Australian press of a ‘toxic’ work culture in the company’s offices, which is currently being investigated by Sony’s New York office. (A global spokesperson for Sony Music declined to comment).

According to local reports, Stringer wrote in his memo: “I am writing to let you know that Denis Handlin will be leaving Sony Music Entertainment after more than 50 years with the company, effective immediately.

“It is time for a change in leadership. And I will be making further announcements in terms of the new direction of our business in Australia and New Zealand in due course.

“My team and I will be speaking further to your team leaders about this process throughout the week, but at this point I wanted to let everyone know this news at the same time.

We thank Denis for his extraordinary contribution to the company and its artists over his long career in the Australian and New Zealand music industry.”