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Bronfman steps down as Warner CEO

By | Published on Monday 22 August 2011

Warner Music

So, as sort of expected, Edgar Bronfman Jr has stepped out of the CEO role at Warner Music, though, contrary to the most prevalent rumour, he will not be replaced by his number two Lyor Cohen.

Rather he will swap roles with Stephen Cooper, the long-time exec at Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, who became Chairman of Warner after Access completed its takeover of the company last month.

As CEO, Cooper will now oversee the day-to-day running of Warner Music. Meanwhile Bronfman Jr, as Chairman, is expected to focus his energies on the Access/Warner bid to buy EMI and, should that bid be successful, the regulatory process that will need to be navigated to merge the third and fourth biggest music companies in the world.

A combined Warner/EMI has been a long-term ambition of Bronfman Jr of course, and he’s got experience here, having orchestrated the merger of Universal and Polygram in the late 1990s. Therefore it makes sense that he’d focus on a possible Warner/EMI consolidation.

Though, as we commented when rumours that this would become Bronfman Jr’s role first circulated, it’s not clear what would happen if EMI’s current owners Citigroup knocked back the Warner offer for the UK-based music major and went with another bidder instead. It would possibly be the end of Bronfman Jr’s major label career.

When Warner’s board and key shareholders, led by Bronfman Jr himself, opted to sell their music company to Blavatnik there was speculation that the firm’s then Chairman and CEO had spearheaded the deal, so to wipe clean the company’s balance sheet to enable an EMI bid, thus allowing the long desired Warner/EMI merger.

However, newer rumours suggest the Blavatnik deal was actually pushed through by Bronfman’s fellow shareholders, and that, now he no longer has a stake in the business – while he is still interested in creating Warner/EMI – the former CEO has less interest in running Warner Music day-to-day.

For those within the Warner empire, Cooper’s appointment as CEO could mean that the recent change in ownership will have wider implications for the firm’s internal structure than many initially anticipated, though it seems likely any major restructure won’t begin until the outcome of the Access/Warner bid for EMI is known.