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COVER STORY : The Ole Boy Network Plays On

November 29, 1992|CHUCK PHILIPS AND ROBERT HILBURN

It's a sign of how deep the good ole boy network goes in the record business that the three women who caused the most news in 1992 were employees who filed sexual harassment suits against their bosses.

Other than Madonna, no woman was consistently named as a major power player during scores of interviews conducted to compile Calendar's Top 40 list. Only two women--a label head and a corporate level senior vice president--were cited at all, and then by fewer than 10% of the industry's--mostly male--heavyweights who were interviewed.

"Maybe the reason nobody wanted us on the power list is that the guys you interviewed are insecure and intimidated by us," quipped Sylvia Rhone, the 39-year-old New York-based chair and chief executive of Time Warner's Atco/EastWest label. "Women have played a vital role in the business for years, but they clearly have not received the recognition they deserve. The problem is that the music industry is merely a reflection of society at large, and prejudice against women and minorities is so deep-seated."

Rhone and Sony Music Group's Michele Anthony may not have yet broken into recording's boys club, but they do embody a new breed of women in the business. They have risen outside the traditional women's career paths of publicity or music video departments to positions of considerable influence and, yes, power in the business.

Rhone got her start in promotion at Atlantic Records in 1983 and was named head of the label's black music department two years later. Thanks to signing such best-selling acts as En Vogue and Da Lench Mob, she helped push revenues last year at Atco/EastWest from $50 million to $79 million.

Anthony, a former Los Angeles music industry attorney and daughter of rock manager Dee Anthony, is a Sony senior vice president in New York. She helps oversee the day-to-day management and operations of all the divisions of Sony Music.

"I have been involved in almost all aspects of the music business and fortunately for me, gender has not been an issue--which I know is atypical of this industry," says the 36-year-old executive, who once represented such bands as Guns N' Roses, Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.

"I am looking forward to the time when executives in the music industry are composed of the most qualified people, be they male or female."

So are plenty of others in the industry.

"There's no question that the music business--as well as the entire entertainment industry--is still very much a good old boy network," says Michael Greene, president and chief executive officer of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. "The only way (the situation) will change is if the international groups superimpose their wills on the label heads. Unless they require equal representation for men and women at the executive level and they require it by a specific date, nothing is ever likely to change."

Doug Morris, the Atlantic Records chairman who was instrumental in Rhone's elevation to CEO status, said the industry is losing a valuable resource by not opening the corporate boardrooms to women.

"Our attitude has to do with respect, with valuing someone for their innate talents, not their gender," he says. "We regard Sylvia as a brilliant executive and she's proven herself many times over."

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