It took over a hundred years to happen, but on January 1, 2015, Jody Gerson officially became the first ever woman to be named Chairman of a global major music company.
The appointment of Gerson as CEO and Chairman of Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) saw the exec leave behind her role as co-President at Sony/ATV, where she spent the previous seven years.
Prior to this, she headed up the West Coast operations of EMI Music Publishing for 17 years – meaning that, for the best part of a quarter-century, Gerson was working under Martin Bandier.
To date, Gerson has remained pretty quiet about her reasons for leaving Sony/ATV – and Bandier – preferring instead to focus on improving UMPG’s A&R firepower with flagship recent signings like Harry Styles, SZA and Jeff Bhasker.
But in an on-stage interview at Glamour’s Women of the Year Live Summit in New York last week, Gerson broke her silence, speaking candidly about why she exited her previous employer – and how she made sure the UMPG job was hers for the taking.
Interviewed by Barneys New York CEO, Daniella Vitale, Gerson cut to the chase early on.
“I took the [UMPG] job after being in the music business for about 25 years, working for basically the same person through various companies,” she said. “And right before my 50th birthday, I got separated.
“My contract was up for renewal [at Sony/ATV] and I was negotiating just to become the President. I was the co-President and had all this success, and I’d hit a wall. He [Bandier] just wouldn’t do it.
“My contract was up for renewal [at Sony/ATV] and I was negotiating to become the President – I was the co-President and had all this success… He just wouldn’t do it.”
Jody Gerson, UMPG
“I spent my career being the loyal good girl, on every level… so I decided, you know what? I’m going to take my power [into my own hands].
“I called a competitor, Lucian Grainge, and he said, Are you ready to be the global Chairman of Universal Music Publishing? And I said yes.”
Gerson also discussed the wider significance of being the first female major music company head at the Glamour event, which took place at the Brooklyn Museum last Monday (November 13).
“My business is very male-dominated in the executive ranks,” she said. “And while you see all these incredibly strong and powerful female artists dominating the business – whether it’s Beyonce or Adele or Alicia or Gaga or Taylor Swift, even – who are really controlling their own careers, it’s the men in our industry who are controlling [the business].
“for me, what’s really important is that I’m not the only one. The way I can make a difference is No.1, run the company as a woman – not in the mirror image of the way men have done it all these years.”
Jody Gerson, UMPG
“So, for me, what’s really important is that I’m not the only one. The way I can make a difference is No.1, run the company as a woman – not in the mirror image of the way men have done it all these years.
“[That means] being honest about picking my kid up from school, or having an issue at home, or taking my mom to chemo – whatever it is.
“And [it means] making sure that everyone at the company can do the same; that we’re really taking care of people and identifying women, especially, who can succeed and excel; making sure we change the culture so that they also have full lives. I think it’s really, really important.”
During her pre-Universal career, Gerson signed the likes of Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys when they were unknowns – as well as playing an instrumental role in the careers of Enrique Iglesias, Mac Miller, Pitbull, RedOne, Shakira and Pharrell Williams.
Speaking at the Glamour event, Gerson honed in on her personal reasons for not pushing herself to higher executive positions earlier on in her career.
She said: “Until I finally decided to take this job, I didn’t go for the big jobs. I really did think it was my job to make men look good. And I think my career, my job, is about making artists look great and supporting them – [so] I was more in the business of supporting other people and not supporting myself.
“[I thought that] by not going for the big jobs and being a good girl I was going to get the reward… without having to take it. I [thought] I couldn’t leave my boss of all those years because I would hurt his feelings and he would be upset. ”
Jody Gerson, UMPG
“[I thought that] by not going for the big jobs and being a good girl I was going to get the reward… without having to take it. One day somebody said to me, ‘Uh uh – it’s time for you to step into your own power and think about you, don’t worry about him.’
“I [thought] I couldn’t leave my boss of all those years because I would hurt his feelings and he would be upset. That, I had to change.”
She added: “[Women] are willing to accept the lesser salary because we’re taking our kids to school in the morning and we’re going to [these child-related things],” she said. “I don’t know that men think they should have a discount in salary because they coach their kids’ basketball teams, you know? Why do we?”
As far as advice for other women in the music business (and other industries), Gerson commented: “Support one another. I think what’s happening today is we all have to realize that we share very similar experiences. We have to support each other and sometimes we even have to push each other to be successful, to be on top and take those big jobs.
“It’s not enough that there’s only one [female] Chairman of a global music company. There should be more than one. But we’re not going to get there unless we support each other and we put each other in that position.”
You can watch the video of Gerson’s discussion at the Glamour event – titled “When You’re The First… What Happens After You Shatter the Glass Ceiling” – below.Music Business Worldwide