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Exec Defends Wife's Role at EMI

Ken Berry, in Rare Public Comments, Cites Double Standard

November 20, 1997|CHUCK PHILIPS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Janet Jackson and the Spice Girls may be EMI Group's top-selling acts, but the woman that everybody in the giant British music conglomerate is talking about is an executive named Nancy Berry, wife of the company's worldwide president.

In fact, everybody in the music business is talking about Berry, now the vice chairman of EMI's Virgin Records division, whose rise in the company quickly followed her husband's ascent this summer to the top music job.

Critics say she rose only through nepotism, and their anger about her rise has spilled into the mainstream media, with a recent Forbes article describing the 39-year-old executive as a "former groupie" whose "relationships with many performers" are "well, let's just say they're unusually close."

While Nancy Berry was elevated, her husband shut down two of EMI's New York record labels, overhauled the West Coast office of its Virgin Records division and fired about 150 employees, including most of its top U.S. executives. Berry also recently replaced longtime President Phil Quartararo with the executive team of Ray Cooper and Ashley Newton, co-managing directors of Virgin's British division.

Ken Berry, 45, joined Virgin in 1972 and rose through the ranks to take charge of Virgin's international record company when EMI purchased it in 1992. Sources say he is, in effect, the company's top music executive and will take over as chairman when James Fifield steps down sometime next year.

Nancy Berry, formerly the executive vice president of Virgin Music Group Worldwide, joined the company as Ken Berry's assistant in 1978 and is credited with creating successful global campaigns for such superstars as Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones and George Michael. Before joining Virgin, she worked in a record store in Detroit, where she managed a rock band. Ken says he met Nancy in the late 1970s, fell in love and married her. She has worked by his side ever since.

Ken Berry is unusually press-shy and has never given an extensive interview during his career. After requests extending over several months, Berry said he agreed to talk to The Times because he is concerned that criticism and gossip about his wife could affect the company. Speaking by phone from his London office, Berry on Wednesday addressed the controversy surrounding his wife, and the impact it has had on her, him and EMI.

Nancy Berry declined to be interviewed, though she was aware of the questions her husband was asked:

Q: A big criticism about Nancy Berry is that she only got where she is because she's your wife.

A: This is a difficult topic because Nancy obviously is my wife. I can't change that. If we weren't married, would it be viewed differently? She is very talented in global marketing, and the fact is I put more pressure on Nancy to perform at her job than others. Because she is my wife, I am thoroughly responsible and accountable for everything she does. If nepotism was my stock in trade, I guess I would have brought in my brothers and other relatives. That's not the case. Nancy is my wife and we have worked very closely together since my early days at the company.

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Q: Can you clarify Nancy's title and what qualifies her to be vice chair of Virgin Records Worldwide?

A: I think titles mean more to people in the U.S. than to a Brit like me who was raised inside the Virgin culture where titles rarely existed until recently. Nancy basically does the same job that she did as executive vice president of the company. As vice chairman, what Nancy does is a global job. With global superstars, you need a very detailed major plan everywhere from South Korea to Argentina to the United States to Germany and the U.K.--and that's what Nancy does. She has been in the company for nearly 20 years and knows everybody all over the world and how records are marketed in all kinds of territories.

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Q: Would you comment on tensions between Nancy and former Virgin President Phil Quartararo and other executives?

A: Nancy is a hard-charging kind of person and when she has got a project on she obviously tries to push for that project to be successful. Sometimes that causes friction between people. But honestly, looking around this business I know a lot of male executives who charge a lot harder than Nancy and nobody's taking shots at them in the media.

We have 10,000 employees at EMI and the fact is I deal with frictions around the entire organization. Sometimes the tensions involve Nancy. And every so often people think, 'Well, she shouldn't have said this or that'--and sometimes maybe they're right. Sometimes they're wrong.

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Q: Did Nancy Berry drive Quartararo out of the company?

A: Absolutely not. Phil had some frustrations and we had a frank conversation about them. His frustrations with Nancy weren't at the top of his list, but they existed. He also had frustrations with me, by the way. He started talking to Warner Bros. and decided that's where he wanted to go.

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