Thursday, October 27, 2011

BMI board sets two firsts with new leader

BMI’s board of directors has a new face at the helm, and it’s the first time the title has been given to a woman and an African-American.

Susan Davenport Austin, an Ivy League-educated woman from Pittsburgh whose family has a long history in radio and who previously spent 10 years in investment banking, will be music rights group BMI’s next chairwoman of the board, the company said Wednesday.

Austin, 44, who is based in New York, was the board’s vice chairwoman before her appointment and will succeed Jack Sander, who will serve as the company’s presiding director.

“The music business has been changing and evolving, but we will continue to make certain that our songwriters are getting paid,” Austin said, referring to BMI’s watchdog duty as overseer of royalty payments, as well as promoting growth within the music industry.

Austin remains chief financial officer of Sheridan Broadcasting Corp., a Pittsburgh-based network of stations, which includes gospel programming. Austin’s family founded the company in 1972.

BMI recently unveiled mobile applications in which songwriters can upload set lists and concert venues to be considered for royalty payments.

Austin sees her tenure on the board’s top post as a way to continue on this path.

BMI last month reported $931 million in revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30.

“This historic high in revenues continues an unbroken record of year-over-year increases stretching back more than 20 years,” a BMI press release noted.

BMI distributed $796 million in royalties this year. The company represents songwriters, composers and music publishers.

Austin said her new role will play to her strengths, some of which she employed on Wall Street.

“In investment banking, I used to tell people my job was to raise money and buy and sell companies. But I was really helping a company with strategic thinking,” said Austin, who said the same approach applies to her duties on the BMI board.

Austin went to Harvard University, from which she received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. She also holds a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University. Before joining her family’s broadcasting company, Austin worked in communications for Goldman Sachs and also at Bear, Stearns & Co.