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Lyor Cohen announces exit from Warner Music

By | Published on Tuesday 25 September 2012

Lyor Cohen

Lyor Cohen, currently CEO of Recorded Music at Warner, will leave the major at the end of the week, it was confirmed yesterday. Cohen joined the music company shortly after an Edgar Bronfman Jr-led consortium took the major into independent ownership away from the rest of Time Warner in 2004. He initially headed up the Warner record labels in North America, later expanding his role so to ultimately oversee the major’s recorded music operations worldwide.

Confirming his somewhat sudden departure, Cohen said in a statement yesterday: “To all the artists and employees who live and die for the music every day, and who personally sacrifice for the good of the creative process: ‘keep on keepin on’ in the tradition of a company that respects and honours the artistic community”.

While Len Blavatnik, whose Access Industries acquired Warner Music last year, said: “I personally want to thank Lyor for his dedication and contributions to Warner Music. He has been both a business partner and personal friend and I wish him only the best”.

Meanwhile Stephen Cooper, put in place as overall CEO of the Warner Music company by Access Industries after last year’s acquisition, added: “Lyor Cohen has built something very special here. While we understand his desire to move on to his next challenge, the enduring success of our recorded music division will serve as a great testament to the progress we’ve made during Lyor’s time at WMG. We are grateful for Lyor’s contributions, and we wish him the best. I’m confident that given the strength of our talented management team in Recorded Music, we’ll be able to drive further success”.

Needless to say, speculation as to what has led to Cohen’s exit from Warner is rife. Rumours of tensions between finance-focused Cooper and music industry veteran Cohen have generally been denied by senior insiders, who argue that the two men complemented each other well. Though it is possible there were differences of opinion regards long-term strategy, Cooper possibly having a much clearer personal vision for Warner Music now he has been in the CEO role for a year.

Other rumours suggest that the major simply couldn’t agree new terms with Cohen, whose original pay packet including generous stock options which would need to be revised when Warner went from public to private ownership. Billboard cites sources as saying that Cohen’s existing pay package was also rather generous by Access Industries standards, which would have made negotiations tricky, especially if the record industry veteran was seeking even more favourable terms.

There’s been speculation also overnight regarding where Cohen may go next, and who might replace him at Warner Music, outgoing EMI chief Roger Faxon being one name linked to the role. Though Faxon’s real experience, of course, lies in music publishing rather than recorded music, and at Warner the two sides of the business are still pretty autonomous from each other.

Unless Warner is interested in pursuing the more integrated approach Faxon was trying to install at EMI before the company was put up for sale by its banker owners, though if the soon-to-be-former EMI man was given a cross-company role at Warner, then what would Cooper do? That said, with the bosses of each Warner label division now reporting into Cooper directly, it may be that the major will instigate a bit of a restructure at the top before filling the seat left empty by Cohen.

As for him, wonderers have been wondering whether a return to his former employer Universal Music could be on the cards, perhaps to oversee the newly acquired Capitol division in the US, though Cohen himself might see that as a step backwards.

A Sony Music role has also been mooted, Cohen having apparently overcome past tensions between him and the top guy there, his former boss at Universal Doug Morris, who wasn’t best pleased when Cohen jumped ship to Warner in 2004. Though at Sony too, the senior executive lounge is quite crowded, and taking a seat alongside the other division chiefs might seem like a backwards step.

Some new stand-alone venture might be more likely, and maybe even a return to artist management; either way, few expect Cohen to be away from the music business for too long.