Advisor to Time Warner
Born c. 1950 in Trinidad.
Worked at EMI UK, 1975-79; worked for Phonogram Records, PolyGram UK, 1979; worked in A&R dept., then head of London Records, PolyGram UK, 1979-1993; chairman, CEO, PolyGram UK, 1992-96; president, PolyGram Music Group, 1996-98; named executive vice president, PolyGram Group, 1996; president, Warner Music International, 1999; chairman, CEO, Warner Music Group, 1999-2004; advisor to Time Warner, 2004—.
After a long career in the music industry, Roger Ames was named chief executive officer of Warner Music Group in 1999. Ames had previously held executive positions at PolyGram and London Records. Though he faced early challenges as Warner's CEO, he enjoyed the confidence of his superiors. However, after a few years with the company, he left to become an advisor to Time Warner.
Ames was born around 1950 in Trinidad, where he received his education. By the mid-1970s, Ames was living in the United Kingdom and working in the music industry. In 1975, he was employed by EMI in the Artists & Repertoire (A&R) department. He also worked for EMI's international department. Four years later, Ames moved on to Phonogram Records, which was part of PolyGram.
By the early 1980s, Ames was working at London Records as the head of A&R. In 1983, he was promoted to general manager. He later became manager-director and, with Tracey Bennett, part owner of the label. During his tenure at London, Ames had a hand in developing important acts including Bronski Beat and its lead singer Jimmy Somerville, Fine Young Cannibals, Bananarama, and Shakespeare's Sister. He also helped artists from the United States, like Los Lobos and Faith No More, gain attention outside their native country.
In 1992, Ames was promoted to chief executive officer and chairman of PolyGram U.K., replacing the retiring Maurice Oberstein, who was stepping down from these positions while retaining his affiliation with PolyGram International. (London Records was part of PolyGram in the United Kingdom.) This marked the first time someone with an background in A&R was put in charge of the label. When Ames took over on January 1, 1993, PolyGram was the leading record company in Britain. Ames was responsible for all of PolyGram's interests in the U.K. and Ireland, including film distribution. Despite the promotion, Ames kept his stake in London Records and constructed his contract so that this would not create a conflict of interest.
Four years later, in the spring of 1996, Ames was named president of the PolyGram Music Group and executive vice president of PolyGram Group. This meant that he was head of all of PolyGram's labels worldwide as well as music publishing, pop marketing, and some financial aspects of PolyGram. Ames remained based in London and continued to retain his interest in London Records. At the time, PolyGram maintained the largest market share of any music company in the world, but was facing competition and did not see its net worth grow in 1995.
Though Ames was picked in part because he already had positive relationships with PolyGram's United States labels, he faced an immediate challenge when he had to integrate the Motown label into the company. This proved difficult to accomplish. During his short tenure in the position, Ames was criticized for his inability to create an effective team and his concern for his own interests. These problems did not matter when Ames was forced out of his post in late 1998, when Seagram purchased PolyGram.
In April of 1999, Ames was hired as part of the senior management group at Warner Music International (WMI). He was hired in part because of his long professional relationship with Ramon Lopez, the chairman and CEO of WMI. They had worked together at EMI and PolyGram. Ames was named president and focused his attention on the European operations. His goal was to improve the overseas operation of the music side of the business that had been faltering. One sticking point of the deal was Ames' financial interest in London Records, which he did not want to relinquish. A deal for distribution of London Records through Warner Music had to be negotiated.
In August of 1999 Ames was named chair and CEO of Warner Music Group, a division of WMI. He relocated to New York City where the new headquarters would be based. Warner Music had a long history of dominance in the United States, but had been suffering from declining market share and management problems for some time. The hiring of Ames marked the first time in nearly 20 years that someone from the music industry headed Warner Music. Some were surprised by the move, while others thought it was a good choice. When the announcement was made, Andrew Pollack of the New York Times wrote, "Some industry executives praised Mr. Ames as having a good mix of creative talent and business acumen, avoiding the extravagant spending that sometimes occurs in the record business."
Ames' affiliation with London Records continued to be something Warner had to deal with until late 1999 when Warner bought the label. London Records was then a part of Warner via Sire Records, a subsidiary of the company. Under the leadership of Ames, Warner began to turn around. By the end of 2000, the label was number four in sales. Early in his tenure, Ames tried to do something radical to improve Warner's status: he worked out a merger between Warner Music and EMI. This shook up the company that had grown staid. However, threats from European regulators related to Time Warner's merging with AOL (America Online) made Time Warner (the parent company of Warner Music Group) back off and the deal never went through.
In 2001, Warner Music began reducing staff, offering early retirements and layoffs. Ames became known for his no-nonsense talk and attention to the bottom line. His strategy seemed to pay off. By late 2001, Warner Music was back to number two in sales.
In 2002, in a continuing attempt to streamline the company, Ames had Warner Music get rid of the Tommy Boy Records imprint. Under the deal's terms, Warner would retain ownership of Tommy Boy's catalog, music publishing rights, and around a dozen acts. Label founder Tom Silverman was given a payout of what was said to be less than $10 million. He retained the label's brand name and several artists. While Ames consolidated or shut down joint-ventures, he also increased spending on "A&R, promotion, and marketing—to improve artist development and exposure," wrote Variety's Justin Oppelaar.
On November 22, 2003, in an effort to reduce its debt load, Time Warner announced that it had agreed to sell Warner Music for $2.6 billion to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. Bronfman would become the head of the new company while Ames was supposed to take the No. 2 spot. However, he was not assigned a formal title, and instead served as a consultant to the company. In August of 2004, Ames told employees that he would be leaving Warner Music to become an advisor to former employer Time Warner.
Billboard, October 3, 1992, p. 6; March 30, 1996, p. 10; April 6, 1996, p. 6; March 20, 1999, p. 6; August 28, 1999, p. 5, p. 99; September 11, 2004, p. 7.
Business Wire, August 16, 1999.
Daily Variety, March 5, 2002, p. 9.
Financial Times, March 23, 1996, p. 9; January 24, 2000, p. 24.
Forbes, July 3, 2000, p. 52.
Hollywood Reporter, September 25, 1992.
New York Times, August 17, 1999, p. C2; December 7, 2001, p. C4; December 10, 2001, p. C4.
Variety, August 23, 1999, p. 25; March 5, 2001, p. 30; May 27, 2002, p. 6.
"Music official at Warner to step down," New York Times,http://www.nytimes.com (December 20, 2004).
"Roger and out," Webpro Wire, http://www.webprowire.com/summaries/675615.html (December 20, 2004).
"Warner Music sold to Bronfman & investors," Rock and Metal, http://www.rockandmetal.com/warnermusic2.html (December 20, 2004).
"Warner Music to be sold for $2.6B," CNNMoney, http://money.cnn.com/2003/11/24/news/companies/warner_music/index.htm (December 20, 2004).