Thursday, December 20, 2012

Warner Music Adds Robert Wiesenthal, a Top Deal Maker at Sony

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN and BEN SISARIO/The New York Times

Robert S. Wiesenthal, a top deal maker at Sony for the last decade, is leaving the company to become chief operating officer at the Warner Music Group, the company announced on Thursday, in a move that could help the company expand through acquisitions and compete more handily against the music world’s two corporate giants, Universal and Sony.

Mr. Wiesenthal, the former chief financial officer of the Sony Corporation of America, and most recently the president of international at Sony’s music publishing arm, will move to Warner at the start of the new year, according to a company statement.

At Warner, he is expected to help the company and its controlling shareholder, the Russian-born billionaire Len Blavatnik, go after deals like the recorded music assets of EMI that Universal, its new owner, is being forced to divest by European regulators.

Among the major corporate powers of the music industry, Warner is a distant third after Universal and Sony.

Warner’s announcement said that Mr. Wiesenthal would report to Steve Cooper, the chief executive, and that “all other reporting relationships at the company remain unchanged” — an indication that Mr. Wiesenthal’s primary brief will be to make media deals to expand the company.

His departure from Sony was announced in an internal memo to employees on Thursday morning by Martin N. Bandier, Sony/ATV’s chairman.

Mr. Blavatnik’s holding company, Access Industries, bought the Warner Music Group last year for $3.3 billion, and Warner has lately undergone a series of top management changes. The appointment of Mr. Wiesenthal is the first major new hire at Warner since Lyor Cohen, the company’s chief executive of recorded music, resigned in September.

Mr. Wiesenthal has long been focused on deal making in the music industry. In a story that has become famous in the industry, he negotiated a deal with Michael Jackson in a Dubai hotel room in 2005 which kept Mr. Jackson from filing for bankruptcy; in exchange, Sony took greater operational control of Sony/ATV, the joint venture owned Sony and the Jackson estate. He also negotiated Sony’s buyout of Bertelsmann from its 50 percent of Sony BMG in 2008.

Last year, Mr. Wiesenthal led Sony’s $2.2 billion deal to acquire EMI Music Publishing, through a complex consortium of investors that included David Geffen, the Jackson estate and others. As a result of that deal, Sony is now the largest music publisher in the world, with control of more than two million songs.

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