A year after he took charge as CEO, Robert Kyncl has quietly transformed Warner Music Group’s leadership

MBW Explains is a series of analytical features in which we explore the context behind major music industry talking points – and suggest what might happen next. Only MBW+ subscribers have unlimited access to these articles.

Just over 12 months ago, Robert Kyncl officially became CEO of Warner Music Group.

Within four weeks, he’d delivered his first address to investors on a WMG earnings call, setting out an agenda that took in the threats/opportunities presented by AI, plus streaming pricing, and his plan for Warner to “thoughtfully relocate resources to accelerate our technology investments”.

Looking at the more visible music biz faces within Kyncl’s leadership team since he started his tenure, you might be forgiven for thinking that the former YouTube exec hasn’t made sweeping changes to WMG’s top-tier personnel.

After all, the leaders of WMG’s global recorded music division (Max Lousada) and its global publishing division (Guy Moot and Carianne Marshall) remain unchanged. (In a process driven by Kyncl, both Moot and Marshall officially inked new multi-year deals with Warner in September; Lousada is himself rumored to have re-upped towards the end of 2023.)

Also unchanged: The leaders of Warner’s flagship frontline record divisions in the US, including Atlantic Records (Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman), 300 Elektra Entertainment (Kevin Liles), Warner Records (Aaron Bay-Schuck and Tom Corson), and ADA (Cat Kreidich).

Yet a full rundown of WMG’s central leadership team on the company’s investor-facing site shows a different side to this story – one that has seen Kyncl quietly transform his C-suite since becoming boss of Warner.

The last 12 months have seen the exit of a range of C-suite and upper-level execs from Warner, including its (former) Chief Digital Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Data Officer, and Global Head of DEI.

Kyncl has replaced these departees with a range of high-caliber executives, notably drawn from outside of music rights – bringing with them the promise of fresh ideas.

A few of these new faces have come from Kyncl’s former employer, Google/YouTube, but others have been handpicked from further afield, including Disney, Instacart, Mastercard, and Justworks.

Who’s Robert Kyncl hired?

Official announcements of new leadership arrivals at WMG, each hired by Kyncl, have included:

  • Tim Matusch, EVP, Strategy and Operations, WMG (announced: January 2023; previously worked at YouTube, BCG)
  • Ariel Bardin, President of Technology, WMG (announced: February 2023; previously worked at Celonis, Instacart, Google)
  • Bryan Castellani, EVP & CFO, WMG (announced: September 2023; previously worked at Disney, ESPN)
  • Carletta Higginson, EVP & Chief Digital Officer, WMG (announced: October 2023; previously worked at Google, Jenner & Block LLP, Pryor Cashman Sherman & Flynn LLP)

Digging around on LinkedIn this afternoon, MBW has discovered several other interesting hires now working with/around Warner’s CEO. They include Vik Gupta (EVP, Engineering & Data Science, WMG; previously worked at Instacart, Google); Peter Lee (Chief of Staff to the CEO, WMG; previously worked at: YouTube, Google); Yrthya Dinzey-Flores (SVP of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, WMG; previously worked at: Justworks, Open Society Foundations, Time Warner Inc.); and Olga LaBelle (Head of ESG, WMG; previously worked at: Mastercard, BCG);

In addition, Kyncl’s influence – and his keenness to define Warner at the “intersection of music and technology” – has likely been felt on recent international hires such as Dinesh Ratnam, MD of Warner Music Malaysia (formerly at video streaming platform, iQiyi) plus Arica Ng, President of Warner Chappell Asia Pacific (formerly a member of Meta’s music team).

Plus we’ve seen the acqui-hire of Elliot Grainge and the 10K Projects team, effectively bringing an entirely new frontline label into the WMG fold.

Who’s departed?

Naturally, as mentioned, Kyncl has also said goodbye to some of the most senior team members hired by his predecessor – Steve Cooper – at Warner.

Since Kyncl started out as CEO, Warner has parted ways with at least the following:

  • Eric Levin, Chief Financial Officer (retirement announced: September 2023)
  • Oana Ruxandra, Chief Digital Officer (exit announced: October 2023)
  • Dr. Maurice A. Stinnett, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (exit confirmed: January 2024)
  • Moin Haque, Chief Data Officer (exit confirmed: 2023)

In fact, looking at the WMG investor site once more, it appears that only three central functional heads at the firm (i.e. outside of labels and special positions) – Chief People Officer, General Counsel, and Chief Communications Officer – remain unchanged since Kyncl was appointed CEO.

Sources at Warner have told MBW that Kyncl also “centralized” some key corporate support functions at the company in 2023 – for example, unifying WMG’s worldwide technology and finance teams so they each now have one global leader.

In a new year memo issued to staff earlier this month, Kyncl called 2024 “The Year of the Next 10” – a reference to the importance of the upcoming 12 months in defining the decade ahead.

“As we start the new year, one thing I’d like us all to remember is that our world has fundamentally changed … the music business is in a very different place than it was ten years ago,” he wrote.

“Now, we’re in a position of strength. That is the time to get ahead for the future.”

It appears this philosophy has already been extended to the trusted coterie of advisors who now surround Warner Music Group’s CEO.Music Business Worldwide

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