President, EMI Recorded Music
Vice Chairwoman, Virgin Records America
In an industry increasingly oriented around the bottom line, Ken and Nancy Berry are a throwback to simpler and more rambunctious times.
Despite their considerable responsibilities, the pair he is president of EMI Recorded Music, she is vice chairman of EMI subsidiaries Virgin Records America and Virgin Music Group Worldwide remain committed to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
Their Bel Air home is a favored stop for rock stars and producers traipsing through town, and the couple has forged strong relationships with artists like the Rolling Stones and the Smashing Pumpkins. Perhaps owing to her flamboyant style, Nancy Berry has been subject of frequent attacks in the press, accused of everything from riding her husband's coattails to treating employees shabbily to having affairs with label artists. (The couple steadfastly denies those rumors; in a rare interview with the L.A. Times last March, Ken Berry dismissed the stories as "revolting I think there is a double standard for women working in the music industry and I think it is very unfair.")
Such stories obscure the considerable influence wielded by the pair. Splitting his time between London and L.A., Ken Berry sits atop a $4 billion empire, which includes the Virgin and Capitol labels and artists like the Spice Girls, Janet Jackson and the Rolling Stones. Nancy Berry handles the advertising and marketing efforts for the label's artists.
"Because she wears short skirts, that doesn't mean anything," said Phil Quartararo, president of Warner Bros. Records Inc. and former Virgin chief executive, who is said to have left the label after clashing with Nancy Berry. "All I can tell you is this: The thing that makes this industry fly is that all of us who are senior executives in this industry, we all have different styles. And if at the end of the day it works for you, that's all that matters."
Ken Berry got his start in London in 1973 as a clerk in the accounts department at Virgin Records, eventually becoming the personal assistant of Richard Branson, the label's founder, who sent him to New York to set up a U.S. base for the company. That's where he met Nancy Myers, a high-school dropout who was hustling demo tapes. She soon started working at Virgin.
Ken Berry has developed a reputation as a tough manager who shut down two of EMI's New York record labels and overhauled Virgin's West Coast office, firing about 150 employees. He also is credited with having doubled Virgin's profits after EMI purchased the label in 1992. Despite the controversies, Nancy Berry is credited with creating successful global campaigns for such superstars as Janet Jackson and George Michael.
Still, these are uncertain times for EMI. The London-based media conglomerate's stock price has been flagging, leading to speculation that EMI will the next major music company to be taken over by a competitor in the rapidly consolidating industry.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.