Lyor Cohen, the dominant creative executive at the Warner Music Group for the last eight years, has resigned from the company, Warner announced on Monday. His departure adds another piece to the chess game of top music executives who are now free agents as the industry adjusts to changes after the Universal Music Group’s absorption of most of EMI.
Mr. Cohen, 52, was chief executive of Warner’s recorded music division, with authority over all its labels around the world, including Warner Brothers Records, Atlantic and Elektra. He reported to Stephen Cooper, the corporate turnaround expert who was brought in as chief executive by Access Industries, the conglomerate that bought Warner in May 2011 for $3.3 billion. In a characteristically noncorporate statement, Mr. Cohen left with a pep talk for his employees. “To all the artists and employees who live and die for the music every day,” he said in a statement, “and who personally sacrifice for the good of the creative process: ‘keep on keepin’ on’ in the tradition of a company that respects and honors the artistic community.” His resignation is effective at the end of the month.
Mr. Cohen joined Warner in early 2004, shortly after Edgar M. Bronfman Jr. and a group of private equity investors bought the company from Time Warner, and since then he has been the top figure on the company’s recorded music side. (It also has a music publishing division, led by Cameron Strang.)
A former rap promoter who led Def Jam Records in its early days, Mr. Cohen is known for an indefatigable confidence and boldness that has made him something of a legend in the industry. In “Fortune’s Fool: Edgar Bronfman Jr., Warner Music, and an Industry in Crisis,” a recent book by Fred Goodman, Mr. Cohen was described as “almost a fictional character” for his hard-charging persona.
No reason was given for Mr. Cohen’s departure, but he was known to be negotiating for a new contract. Last year, Mr. Cohen earned nearly $11 million in total compensation, more than any other employee, including Mr. Bronfman, according to Warner’s annual report.
A successor was not named, and for the time being the leaders of Warner’s labels will report to Mr. Cooper.
For months, industry speculation has centered on Roger Faxon, EMI’s chief executive, as a possible leader for Warner. On Friday, after Universal received regulatory clearance for its $1.9 billion takeover of EMI’s labels, Mr. Faxon announced his resignation, also effective this week.