Warner Music Group poaches Goldman Sachs’ Michael Ryan-Southern to lead global M&A

Warner Music Group CEO Robert Kyncl has previously hinted that his company is keen to grow its presence in various crucial sectors of the music business via acquisition.

Now, he has found the executive to lead that mission.

Widely respected exec Michael Ryan-Southern is leaving Goldman Sachs, joining Warner Music Group to lead all M&A activity at the global major music company.

At Warner, he will assume the newly created post of Executive Vice President, Corporate Development, effective August.

With 20 years of finance experience, the exec has been involved in multiple substantial raises, equity sales, and acquisitions in the music business.

He leaves behind his role as Global Head of Music and Live Entertainment Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs, which he joined in 2021.

Prior to joining Goldman in 2021, Michael Ryan-Southern spent eight years in senior leadership positions among a number of Mubadala Capital and Mubadala Investment Company portfolio companies.

The exec worked for six years at EMI Music Publishing, nearly three of which were spent as Deputy CFO (between January 2016 and November 2018).

In that position at EMI, he played an instrumental role in the sale of EMI Music Publishing to Sony Corporation, in a deal that valued EMI Music Publishing at $4.75 billion.

During that process, he worked closely with the selling party in that EMI/Sony Deal, Mubadala Capital.

After leaving EMI in November 2018, Ryan-Southern served as President & CEO of Hakkasan Group (a Mubadala Owned Asset) between 2018 and 2020, and served as CFO of REEF (also a Mubadala Owned Asset) in 2021, before joining Goldman Sachs as a Managing Director.

Prior to EMI, he spent over eight years at KPMG.

News of this key hire at Warner comes shortly after WMG entered discussions to potentially acquire Paris-headquartered music company Believe, before retreating from any potential deal.

On WMG’s calendar Q1 (fiscal Q2) earnings call, the company’s leadership team stressed that, despite not doing a deal for Believe, the company continues to look for further M&A opportunities.

“It’s our job to survey the market. And if there [are] opportunities that will accelerate our initiatives, we’ll take those,” said WMG’s CFO, Bryan Castellani.

In his introductory remarks on that same earnings call, WMG CEO Robert Kyncl noted that WMG is “staying vigilant about our M&A opportunities, which could accelerate our capabilities”.

Later on the call, in response to analyst Benjamin Black’s question about “where strategic M&A fits into [WMG’s] capital allocation hierarchy right now,” Robert Kyncl said: “We have a clear strategy in expanding our offerings to serve more artists across a wider array of their careers. And we are building against that. We have our team working really hard, building all the right features that we need.

He added: “We always look at ways to accelerate because all of this work takes time. Anytime there’s an option in the market that allows us to accelerate our road maps we will look at it.”

Meanwhile, an internal note sent to the company’s global team back in January may have included a hint about where the company could be looking to invest.

On January 8, in an internal memo obtained by MBW, Robert Kyncl highlighted three key areas that he said WMG will focus on in 2024, including growing engagement with music; increasing the value of music, and, evolving how WMG’s employees work together.

As part of his plan to “grow the engagement with music,” Kyncl wrote that there will be an increased focus on “distribution and administration”.

Kyncl also explained that WMG is “building scaled and highly effective distribution infrastructure so that we can radically and efficiently grow the large ‘middle class’ of artists while our frontline labels can remain focused on artists with the highest potential”.

Music Business Worldwide