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Q & A with DANNY GOLDBERG : 'The Biggest Challenge Is to Not Screw This Job Up'

November 02, 1994|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Danny Goldberg, who has agreed to head Warner Bros. Records after a week of turbulent in-fighting in Time Warner ranks, wants to assure employees at the label's Burbank office that he is not on a slash-and-burn mission.

The reason Goldberg's promotion is causing anxiety at Warner Bros. is that he is succeeding Mo Ostin, who over the last 25 years established the label as a stable, creative environment for both artists and employees.

Ostin, who will step down Jan. 1, reportedly resisted efforts by Time Warner brass in New York to "streamline" the Warner Bros. operation by making massive personnel and artist roster cuts. Lenny Waronker, Ostin's longtime protege, had initially agreed to succeed Ostin but decided last week to leave the company.

Goldberg, who was scheduled to take over as chairman of Time Warner's Atlantic Group in January, was offered the Warner Bros. post by Doug Morris on Thursday, moments after Morris won a showdown with Robert J. Morgado, Warner Music Group chairman, for control of the company's domestic music division . (The $5.4-billion firm is the world's biggest record conglomerate). It was Morgado's approach that caused a clash with Ostin, sources say.

Goldberg, 44, was manager of such hit acts as Bonnie Raitt and Nirvana before joining Atlantic Records in 1992 as senior vice president. In his first interview after accepting the new position, Goldberg spoke about the anxiety at Warner Bros. and his goals for the label.

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Question: Before the battle at Warner Music last week, you were to take over the Atlantic Group. Was the Warner Bros. post something you wanted for a long time? Or did you accept it out of a sense of duty at Time Warner?

Answer: Mario Cuomo may have turned down an opportunity to get on the U.S. Supreme Court, but I wasn't about to turn down one of the best jobs in the record business. The way the job offer came about, however, was very unexpected. Until last week I was certain that Lenny was going to be chair of Warner Bros., so it was not something I ever even considered or thought about.

It's very difficult for me to leave Atlantic and all the artists and executives I've forged bonds with there. Accepting the job has been very destabilizing to my family, but my wife and I have discussed it, and this is the kind of opportunity that only comes along once in a lifetime.

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Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge ahead?

A: I'm reminded of the Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm. The biggest challenge for me is to not screw this job up. My biggest concern is to be respectful to the brilliant people that created this institution and to learn from them about their company's culture. . . . Mo Ostin's the greatest record executive of his generation. I think anyone who wasn't apprehensive about being able to fill his shoes should be disqualified from even being asked to step into them. But I am taking the challenge on with an inner belief that I can do a good job.

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Q: What would you say to people at Warner Bros. who fear job and roster cuts and think you've been hired to execute a slash-and-burn mission at the label?

A: It's simply not true. I need to visit and learn a lot before I do anything. My plan is to listen carefully to the people at Warner Bros. and absorb their experiences and thoughts before I make any decisions. . . . There are not going to be any immediate cuts. I am not coming in to cut people. I am not interested in that job. I'd rather stay in New York and do what I'm doing now. That's not what turns me on about it. That's not my purpose.

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Q: Is it true that the battle between Robert Morgado and Doug Morris got so intense last week that you and several other top executives threatened to quit?

A: There are certain things I feel uncomfortable talking about without a lawyer present, but I can tell you that Doug Morris is the reason I joined Atlantic. He's my mentor. He's the reason I am in the record business, and he commands my loyalty and my friendship. When Doug was under attack last week, I felt like I was under attack.

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Q: What did you learn about the corporate world during that crisis?

A: I learned the value of personal relationships. You see, I've formed very emotional and powerful bonds with Doug Morris and the rest of his team. And now more than ever, I'm convinced that the only way to be effective in the corporate world is to honor personal relationships and to work at them and take them seriously.

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Q: You have a reputation for being sensitive to the needs of artists, whether it be the late Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love or Liz Phair. You have acted as a confidant for a number of artists who typically avoid executive types. Why do you think artists trust and relate to you?

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