Michael Stebler named CEO of Utopia Music, just three months after Alain Couttolenc assumed role

Michael Stebler

In a swift executive move, Utopia Music has appointed Michael Stebler as its new CEO, succeeding Alain Couttolenc, who was appointed CEO this past October.

The change, effective immediately, was first reported by Billboard on Friday (January 12), citing an internal memo to staff.

Within that memo, obtained by MBW, and which you can read in full below, the company’s Board of Directors revealed that Couttolenc, now the Deputy CEO and Chief Commercial Officer, will be joined by Drew Hill, responsible for Utopia’s UK-based physical distribution businesses, who will also take on the role of Deputy CEO.

Pedro Lima, a former executive at NielsenIQ, assumes the position of Chief Operating Officer.

Couttolenc was named CEO in October after Utopia co-founder Mattias Hjelmstedt stepped down from his executive position and resumed his former role as Chairman of the Board.

Hjelmstedt himself was named CEO early in 2023 after Markku Mäkeläinen, who had been CEO since 2020, left the company on January 31, 2023.

Meanwhile, Stebler, closely associated with the Swiss-based financial services provider Investment Advisors Zug AG, through his role there as managing director, now steps into his first executive post with the company.

Investment Advisors Zug AG, operating on behalf of the majority shareholder group, increased its holdings in Utopia through a 2022 Series C funding round, covering 40%-60% of the first tranche. 

Another tranche of funding is currently underway, with details of the investment kept confidential, according to Billboard.

Speaking to Billboard, Stebler expressed confidence in his ability to bring stability to Utopia Music with his background in the banking and financial industry.

“We believe that the combination of Utopia’s strategy, our network and our financial support will bring the company to the next level.”

Michael Stebler, Utopia Music

“We believe that the combination of Utopia’s strategy, our network and our financial support will bring the company to the next level,” Stebler was quoted as saying by the news outlet.

The leadership shakeup follows a round of redundancies towards the end of 2022 that led to Utopia splitting into two divisions: ‘Music Services’ (including acquired businesses such as UK-based Sentric Music Group, Absolute Label Services, and Proper), and ‘Royalty Platform’, which houses Utopia’s in-house tech platform.

The Music Services division was previously led by former Downtown executive Roberto Neri, who joined Utopia as COO in 2021. However, in April 2023, just 62 days after he was named CEO of the unit, Neri confirmed that he was leaving Utopia to serve as CEO of the new global publishing division of Believe.

In addition to the job cuts and management changes, Utopia also divested three companies in 2023, less than two years after it acquired them. In February 2023, Utopia sold music directory platform ROSTR back to its founders Mark Williamson and Adam Watson.

The following month, it sold Sentric to Believe in a transaction estimated at €47 million ($51.5 million), and in July, Utopia sold Absolute Label Services, a UK-based distribution and services provider for independent artists and record labels, back to its original leadership team. 

You can read the internal memo in full below:

Dear Utopians

First of all, I’d like to welcome all of you back from the holiday break and wish you a happy new year! I hope that you had a peaceful time with your close ones. During this period, the Board of Directors has held many discussions on how we should operate moving forward to ensure Utopia can realise its transformation in the best way possible. I’d like to share some important changes with you today.

The Utopia Board of Directors has appointed Michael Stebler as Group CEO of Utopia Music, with immediate effect. Michael represents the investor group behind the C-round and will lead Utopia through this transition, giving the shareholder group further operational authority. Michael will work closely with Alain Couttolenc, who will continue to support him as Deputy CEO. Alain has proven his ability to develop growth strategies and generate leads in a remarkably short time, and we are delighted to share that he will also be driving top-line growth as Chief Commercial Officer. Utopia needs a sales leader with vast experience in selling IP products, who knows our clients, to realise our commercial roadmap and Alain is the ideal candidate to succeed.

Michael Stebler has 20+ years of experience at the high end of the international banking industry with different senior management positions at UBS and Credit Suisse. As Utopia’s Group CEO, his transition plan focuses on targeted sales, structural enhancements, and transparency, ensuring the company’s alignment with its goals. With proven leadership skills, a visionary approach, and the ability to navigate change, Michael is highly capable to steer Utopia toward growth and success in a dynamic market.

In recognition of the critical role Utopia Distribution Services and Proper Music Group play in the overall organisation, Drew Hill will also become Deputy CEO alongside Alain, which he will shoulder in addition to his role as Chief of Distribution, where he will report directly to Michael. This appointment is a testament to his 25+ years of experience and track record as a respected leader within Utopia and the music industry, and moving forward he will be a key contributor to setting our commercial and product strategies. Drew will strongly contribute his immense knowledge to ensure we strike the right balance of financial acumen and industry representation.

Michael will present our updated C-level structure at the PULSE later today. I can however also already share that I will take on further executive responsibilities as Chief of Financial Services. In this capacity I will contribute with my expertise to develop and commercialise financial products – I’m looking forward to working with you!

The Board of Directors and Michael recognize the struggles you have all been through, tackling the uncertainty whilst continuing to deliver results during this difficult period. The Board and Leadership Team are committed to provide the necessary tools to ensure the future success of Utopia that can only occur with your continued support. There will be adjustments on priorities to ensure we focus our efforts on what we can sell to clients but we want to be clear that our approach is intended to be one of targeted growth.

Our confidence in Utopia’s potential and all of you remains steadfast. Together we will succeed in delivering the most cutting-edge and sought after solutions to the music industry by “making every play count”.

John Mitchell and the Board of Directors Music Business Worldwide

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