Russ Thyret is expected to resign as chairman of Warner Bros. Records next month, making it the first hit in the anticipated shakeup at the music group.
The departure of the 30-year Warner Music veteran has been grist for the rumor mill since last summer. The writing on the wall got clearer when it was leaked that Interscope Records president Tom Whalley had been hired as chairman of Warner Bros. Records, even though he won’t arrive until January because Interscope won’t let him out of his contract.
Warner Bros. Records president Phil Quartararo is in line to run the show until Whalley’s arrival. The restructuring could cost Howie Klein, the president of Reprise Records, a WB sister label, his job as well.
WB is home to acts such as Madonna, R.E.M., Eric Clapton, Faith Hill and newcomers Linkin Park.
The move is ostensibly part of parent company AOL Time Warner’s $1 billion cost-cutting plan, which calls for the elimination of 2,400 jobs, 600 of them within the Warner Music Group, which consists of Warner Bros., Reprise, Atlantic, Elektra, Sire, Giant, Maverick and their subsidiaries.
Warner Music began circulating an early retirement plan in late January to employees with at least a decade of service who are not under contract and are at least 50 years old. Cuts are expected to be deeper at Warner Bros. Records, where about 40 people were offered the deal, and at Reprise, where the number of executives eligible for the plan is greater than at Atlantic or Elektra.
Bob Merlis, senior VP of communications and a 27-year veteran of Warners, will in all likelihood be among the first to resign; Carl Scott and Larry Butler, the top two executives in the artist relations department, are expected to follow suit.
Warner Music Group had a market share of 15.6% last year, which put it in third place among the five major music distributors, and it had 11 albums in SoundScan’s top 100 for the week ended Feb. 24.