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Warner Music Group Names Former MGM Vice Chair Stephen Cooper CEO

With the turnaround expert running day-to-day operations, Edgar Bronfman Jr. will serve as chairman, while Lyor Cohen, chairman and CEO, recorded music and Cameron Strang, chairman and CEO of Warner/Chappell Music, keep their posts.

NEW YORK - Warner Music Group said Friday that turnaround expert Stephen Cooper, who previously served as vice chairman and member of the office of CEO at MGM, has been named CEO and that Edgar Bronfman Jr. will serve as chairman.

The move marks a switch in the two executives' most recent roles after WMG was recently taken private in an acquisition by Len Blavatnik's Access Industries.

Bronfman will focus on the music major's strategy and growth opportunities, while Cooper, who will remain on the board, will be responsible for the company's day-to-day operations. 

Lyor Cohen, chairman and CEO, recorded music and Cameron Strang, chairman and CEO of Warner/Chappell Music, will remain in their positions, reporting directly to Cooper, the company said.

The executive switch at the top also comes at a time when WMG and others are looking at a potential acquisition of EMI. In a memo to staff, Bronfman seemed to make an indirect reference to that, saying that his energy and focus would now be "directed toward transformative transactions and long-term strategy." 

Cooper is not known as someone who steps into positions for his specific industry expertise, but who instead comes in to overhaul businesses, streamline operations and reduce costs. He has been involved in high-profile turnaround efforts, including those at then scandal-ridden energy giant Enron, as well as at KrispyKreme Donuts. Observers said he didn't seem to have made a big splash at MGM, but prepared it for its most recent sale.

He is also managing partner of Cooper Investment Partners, a private equity firm, and has more than 30 years of experience as a financial advisor and has served as chairman or CEO of various businesses. Importantly, Cooper has a Blavatnik connection as he also sits on the supervisory board of plastics and chemicals firm LyondellBasell Industries, in which Blavatnik's Access Industries has invested.

“With the Access Industries transaction closed and WMG well-positioned for its next exciting chapter, it was clear that in order to best seize the strategic opportunities before us, we needed to deploy our team in the most effective and imaginative manner possible," said Bronfman in a statement on Friday.

About Cooper, Bronfman said in his memo: "Having worked very closely with him over the past several months, I can tell you that he is a highly effective operator who brings a wide range of skills and experience to WMG, most recently, of course, as WMG’s chairman. And, as a longtime partner to Len, Steve knows the Access team well and will be an effective liaison between them and WMG."

Bronfman led a group of private equity firms in the acquisition of Warner Music in 2004. That group included Thomas Lee Partners. WMG said Friday that Thomas Lee, who was already a board member of the music firm between 2004 and July of this year, is rejoining its board, bringing its size to 10 members.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai