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Neil Portnow Named Grammy President


Veteran record executive Neil Portnow has spent the last few years persuading Hollywood studios to hire his company to provide music for their films. Now he's about to become familiar with a whole new kind of drama.

On Monday, Portnow was named president of the Grammy organization, the Santa Monica-based nonprofit that has been engulfed in controversy for years. Portnow, 53, according to people who have worked with him, is a low key diplomat who will probably remain firmly behind the scenes and offer a drastically different management style than his predecessor, C. Michael Greene, who resigned earlier this year amid misconduct allegations.

Portnow, formerly chief of West Coast operations for Zomba Group, declined to spell out his plans for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, as the Grammy organization is officially known. He is expected to officially start his new job in the next few weeks. But Portnow said Monday that, "to have this opportunity, at this time, to be more a part of the good work the academy does, is a real privilege and honor for me."

Greene abruptly resigned from the organization in April, after the organization's chairman, Garth Fundis, called an emergency board meeting to review allegations of sexual harassment against the controversial Grammy chief.

Fundis said Monday that "Neil comes to us with superb credentials and a unique skill set that perfectly matches what we were looking for in a new president."

Portnow has served as a volunteer executive in the Grammy organization for two decades, and most recently worked for two years as treasurer and secretary of the Grammy's national board of trustees.

Portnow has yet to finalize a contract with the organization, but is expected to receive a maximum of about $750,000 in salary and bonuses as Grammy chief--less than half of Greene's controversial compensation package, sources said. Portnow also is open to departing from Greene's custom of appearing on the Grammy telecast to tell viewers about piracy or other industry issues. Portnow may either forgo the traditional speech or tap a recording artist to make the presentation, sources said.

Music industry figures who know Portnow, also say he will probably bring a more decentralized approach than Greene, who was often criticized internally for his autocratic style.

"He is very liberal in his ideas and trusts people around him, and he is open to listening a lot more," said Jeff Blue, a senior talent scout at Warner Bros. Records, who broke into the business signing artists for Portnow at Zomba. "That's the type of leadership the Grammys need. I think it was much more rigid before."

Supporters say Portnow is well-suited to handle the various tasks of running the unique organization, including fund-raising and maneuvering record-label politics.

"Neil is an exceptional leader. He will bring passion, commitment and integrity to the job," said Zach Horowitz, president of Universal Music Group, the world's biggest record company.

Born in New York, Portnow broke into the record industry as a guitarist, then became a music producer. He has worked as a talent scout for RCA Records and Arista Records, and spent the last 14 years working for Zomba Group, the independent music giant that is being acquired by German conglomerate Bertelsmann. As chief of West Coast operations, Portnow has tried to develop a "one-stop shop" for television and film producers in search of compositions, soundtrack material and other music services. Most recently, the approach has been adopted by the producers of such films as "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius."

Portnow comes to the organization at a time when the future of several high-profile ventures is in doubt. For example, the start-up Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, an offshoot launched by Greene, turned in such a dismal ratings performance for its broadcast on CBS two weeks ago that executives are uncertain whether it will return to television.

"An academy is a place that strives for excellence," Portnow said. "And for people to want to belong to an academy, the level of professionalism and good work needs to be there. That's what we need to be."

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