Sir Lucian Grainge

Chairman & CEO, Universal Music Group

Universal Music Group CEO and Chairman, Sir Lucian Grainge (credit: UMG)

Sir Lucian Grainge is the Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music rightsholder.

Across the course of his career, Grainge has worked with the likes of ABBA, Drake, Elton John, Jay Z, Katy Perry, Queen, Rihanna, The Rolling Stones, Sam Smith, U2 and Amy Winehouse.

Grainge is a “sir” by virtue of being knighted by the Queen of England in 2006 for services to British business and inward investment, as well as his accomplishments in the music industry.

“For some companies, technology is the highest form of art; for us the highest form of art is music.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Universal Music Group

At the time, Grainge said: “It is with enormous pride that I receive this honour from Her Majesty the Queen. It is a recognition of British music’s significance to the UK’s culture and economy, its role in inspiring investment, and the contribution of incredible creative talent from around the world.”

British executive Grainge was born and raised in London, and now lives and works in Los Angeles.

In 2017, in a clear nod towards Silicon Valley, he said: “For some companies, technology is the highest form of art; for us the highest form of art is music.”

Grainge received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2020, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018 having received the Howie Richmond Hitmaker award.


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Sir Lucian Grainge: Music business career and rise at Universal Music Group

Sir Lucian Grainge joined Universal Music in London in 1986 to launch a music publishing company, PolyGram Music Publishing UK.

Within half a decade, the exec had led PolyGram to become one of the top three music publishing companies in the British market.

In 1993, Grainge joined Universal label Polydor as General Manager of A&R and Business Affairs, working his way up to the position of Polydor Managing Director in 1997.

After being promoted to Deputy Chairman of Polydor, in 2001 Grainge was upped again to  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Universal Music UK.

Four years later, Grainge was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive of Universal Music Group International, running UMG’s global operations outside the United States.

Grainge was then appointed CEO of Universal Music Group in 2010, before being promoted to Chairman & CEO the following year.


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Sir Lucian Grainge: Acquisition of EMI Music

One of Sir Lucian Grainge’s first major moves as Chairman of Universal Music Group will forever form a big part of his legacy: the acquisition of EMI Music.

The process of acquiring EMI from Citigroup began in 2011 and was completed in September 2012, with UMG buying the British major record company for $1.9 billion (£1.2 billion).

At the time, Grainge said: “This is a next step towards ensuring the health of our industry. EMI is finally returning to people who have music in their blood. We are acquiring incredible labels and a roster of stellar talent, including top-selling artists like Katy Perry, Lady Antebellum, The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

“We remain true to our vision of investing in EMI, growing the company as a vibrant source of new music, offering consumers more choice and supporting the growth of online music services.”

“EMI is finally returning to people who have music in their blood.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, speaking in 2012

In addition to ingesting blockbuster artist catalogs and huge label brands including Capitol, the EMI Music acquisition also netted Universal ownership of Abbey Road Studios.

Following an investigation into the proposed EMI acquisition by European regulators, Universal divested Parlophone Music Group to Warner Music Group for £487 million in July 2013.

Returning to the theme of Universal’s EMI acquisition, and its investment in music throughout the 21st Century, Grainge said in 2017: “Our industry as we know is improving, and it’s important we never lose sight of our fundamental mission: to invest in long-term artist development.

“When the [record] industry wasn’t doing so well – and let’s face it, so many people from the outside thought that it would be over – we didn’t listen. We never listened.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Universal Music Group

“When the [record] industry wasn’t doing so well – and let’s face it, so many people from the outside thought that it would be over – we didn’t listen. We never listened. We always followed what we believed in: how important music is and how important our IP is. We were at the forefront of the development of the new marketplace for the global distribution of music as well as the discovery of new talent.

“We continue to invest in great music, great artists and great people.”


Sir Lucian Grainge: Performance of Universal under his leadership

In the year that Sir Lucian Grainge took over as Chairman of Universal Music Group, 2011, the company’s annual global revenues weighed in at €4.197 billion.

In the same year, according to financial filings by parent Vivendi, Universal Music Group’s EBITA profitability reached €507 million – a 12.1% margin.


Vivendi Universal Music results 2011

Eight years on, in 2019, Universal’s annual revenues had nearly doubled, growing to €7.16 billion (just over $8 billion).

The company’s EBITA profit margin was €1.12bn, up 22.3% year-on-year, more than double the EBITA figure UMG posted in 2011.

2019’s EBITA figure represented a 15.7% EBITA profit margin for Universal.



Sir Lucian Grainge: Leadership philosophy

Sir Lucian Grainge rarely grants interviews to the media, but regularly sends year-end memos to thousands of Universal Music Group employees around the world.

At the close of 2019, Grainge’s annual memo read: “As disruptive forces continue to upend traditional ways of doing business, we’ve remained determined to best serve our artists by making investments, by taking risks, by actively shaping our future by continuing to transform our company.”

He added: “The reason for my confidence in our ability to continue our transformation is simple. It’s the same reason behind our remarkable success: we are not monolithic. UMG is a collection of dynamic companies created by visionary entrepreneurs, each sharing a common belief: that an artist they discover will change culture.”

“Universal Music Group is a collection of dynamic companies created by visionary entrepreneurs, each sharing a common belief: that an artist they discover will change culture.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Universal Music Group

At the close of 2020, Grainge’s tone reflected upon a year in which Covid-19 had become a deadly global pandemic. Grainge himself was hospitalized with Covid in March that year, having been struck down by the virus following his 60th birthday party on February 29.

He wrote in a year-end Universal company memo: “I want this year-end note to remind each of you of the instrumental part you played in bringing to the world something powerful, inspiring, uplifting, and yes, universal: music. A force for good unlike any other in the world.”

Grainge also acknowledged the “harsh realities of inequality and racism” that came to the fore in 2020, and Universal’s response to it.

“When, in collaboration with our artists, we come together as a company, as a community, what we can achieve is truly remarkable.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Universal Music Group

Added Grainge’s memo: “Our purpose—our continuing commitment—is to harness our collective talents and resources to shape culture through the power of music and the artistry and creativity that give it birth. When, in collaboration with our artists, we come together as a company, as a community, what we can achieve is truly remarkable. And it’s never been more urgent or more necessary to do so than right now.

“Given all the challenges that 2020 has dealt us, and given all the time and effort so many of you have personally expended to help those in need, it is truly amazing that somehow you still found the bandwidth to remain laser-focused on achieving unprecedented success for our artists.”Music Business Worldwide

Sir Lucian Grainge In The News

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