Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cars, Songs & Déjà Vu

In 1992 I was given a most unexpected opportunity to run a division of a famed record label: RCA/Nashville. The task was daunting on a number of levels: I had no corporate experience; I’d never managed a large group of employees; I knew I was expected to make major changes both administratively and musically and hell, I was nervous. So I moved into this prestigious role, a big office and started to examine the landscape, with eyes on the staff and ears on the music. Within the initial 90 days I made a few significant staff changes, dropped some artists and did my best to get an understanding of the finances of the record business. In the midst of all of this I wrote a number of messages to my superiors in New York, Los Angeles and Germany expressing serious concerns about the growth of peer-to-peer trading of digital music and its potential threat to our business. Across the board I received responses that suggested I stick to my stated task (sell more records) and leave the future planning to ‘us.’ My continued protests went unheeded. RCA’s North American management – at the time owned by Bertelsmann, AG – was populated by Harvard Business School grads. They seemed to be telling me that this was their domain and they had it under control. So eventually I reluctantly backed off my posture - that it was all going to hell if we didn’t have some forward-thinking plans in place. I was reminded of this because of an article I read this morning regarding the proposed bailout of the US auto industry. In it there was the following quote from Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan:) ‘Automakers are working to adapt to a changing consumer market, but they need immediate help to survive the nation's current economic crisis.’ Draw your own conclusion.


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