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Morris unlikely to arrive at Sony before the summer

By | Published on Tuesday 1 March 2011

Sony Music

There was more speculation yesterday about if and when Universal Music Chairman Doug Morris will move over to rivals Sony Music to take over the CEO role there.

As previously reportedly, Morris, who stepped back from the Chief Executive job at Universal last year, has become the frontrunner to take over from current Sony Music top man Rolf Schmidt Holtz, who is due to leave at the end of the month.

However, Morris – who Universal originally expected to stay on in the backseat Chairman’s role for at least a couple of years – is still in contract with the major until at least the end of 2011, so will need parent company Vivendi’s permission if he wants to join Sony sooner than next year.

Negotiations between Morris, Vivendi and Sony have been ongoing for some time. The consensus seems to be that Universal will let Morris go earlier than his current contract allows, though both the New York Post and the Daily Telegraph reckon that the earliest he could expect to be joining Sony Music is early summer.

With Schmidt-Holtz due to leave in a few weeks time, that would leave Sony Music without a CEO for at least three months. Insiders reckon that, assuming Sony is confident Morris will be coming to them within the year, Sony USA’s CFO Rob Wiesenthal would be put in place as an interim CEO for the short term.

Some have already questioned whether the 72 year old Morris is actually that desirable a hire for Sony Music, especially given the contractual issues in getting him on board. He is very much part of the record industry old guard, and was one of the major label bosses who totally screwed up the industry’s response to the internet when it first arrived on the scene, costing the wider industry years worth of opportunities.

That said, others point to Morris’s recent success stories in the digital space, most notably the Universal-initiated music video site VEVO, and his sensible strategy to diversify the music major into the live, management, merchandising and television sectors, something Sony has been rather slow to do (with the exception of Syco in the TV space, of course).

Arguably Morris failed to effectively integrate those different businesses at Universal, which were in the main obtained through acquisition, though perhaps he could better achieve the holy grail of a fully integrated music rights and artist services company second time round if given a blank page for diversification at Sony.