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Sony Corp talking to Morris about Sony Music top role

By | Published on Tuesday 14 December 2010

According to Reuters, Sony Corp has held early talks with outgoing Universal Music big cheese Doug Morris about him taking over as top man at Sony Music.

As previously reported, rumours of Morris moving to Sony emerged last week following the news another contender for the top job at Sony Music, Barry Weiss, who heads up Sony’s RCA/Jive division, had announced he was heading to Morris’ current haunt to join Doug’s successor in the Universal CEO role, Lucian Grainge. It seems certain Weiss decided to jump ship having come to the conclusion the Sony Music CEO role would not go to him.

The role of Sony Music chief is up for grabs because the incumbent, Rolf Schmidt Holtz, completes his current contract with the major next March. Weiss and his counterpart atop the other big Sony Music division in the US, Columbia/Epic boss Rob Stringer, have long been considered favourites to succeed the current Sony chief.

One problem for Stringer – other than recent articles in some US media remarking on what a disaster his time running Columbia/Epic has been – is that his brother Howard is top man at parent company Sony Corp. And sometimes family connections can go against you, in that, some insiders say, the Sony Corp board won’t want to be seen to be employing nepotism when appointing the new top man for their record company.

Another problem for both Stringer and Weiss is that they each respectively represent the old Sony and old BMG camps within the company that was, for a time, SonyBMG. The merger of the Sony and BMG record companies in 2004 was something of a disaster and the tensions it created remain, especially in the American wing of the business where the two main operating divisions still represent the old merged companies – Stringer running the old Sony labels, Weiss the old BMG labels.

Although Sony subsequently bought BMG out of the merged major, rebranding as Sony Music, the old BMG camp are still influential within the US business, partly because Schmidt Holtz came from BMG, and partly because Simon Cowell – through whom SonyBMG enjoyed the lucrative ‘Idol’ partnership in the US and the wider Syco partnership in the UK – was ex-BMG too. Promoting former BMG man Weiss would be seen by some as a continuation of the old BMG team’s dominance, a promotion for Stringer could be spun as the Sony camp retaking political control of the Sony record company. Neither is ideal for internal politics.

Which, some argue, is why Howard Stringer and Sony Corp recognise bringing in someone from outside Sony Music could be beneficial. As previously reported, the New York Post recently reported that a favourite was Marty Bandier, boss of Sony’s music publishing company. But insiders say he is not keen on making the move from publishing into recordings and, unlike his former colleague at EMI, Roger Faxon, who now heads up both publishing and recordings, Bandier would have to pick one or the other. Sony don’t own the Sony/ATV publishing company outright, making a merger of the CEO roles at its two music businesses difficult, even if it would be sensible strategically.

Which brings us back to 72 year old Morris. He was meant to be handing over the reigns of Universal Music to the aforementioned Grainge to take the more backseat role of Chairman at the world’s biggest music company but, possibly because he’s decided the backseat isn’t so much fun, or possibly because of rumours of growing tensions between him and his successor, Reuter’s insider sources say Morris is seriously considering the Sony CEO job.

Morris isn’t the only contender on Sony Corp’s shortlist though, Reuters say. Another possible is Rob Wiesenthal, currently CFO of the Japanese firm’s USA division. Some reckon he and a promoted Rob Stringer could work in partnership at the top of Sony Music, though that is unlikely to hugely impress the ex-BMG brigade.

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