Sony Music bosses told of Denis Handlin’s abusive behavior

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Senior executives at Sony Music were told of the abusive behavior of longtime Australian company boss Dennis Handlin more than two decades before he stepped down earlier this year, according to a detailed report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of the country airs Sunday.

Handlin – one of the most powerful executives in the country’s music industry, who was also president of the Australian Recording Industry Association and an Officer of the Order of Australia – and four other senior Sony executives have left the company earlier this year following a hard-hitting report titled “Under the Glass Ceiling” on endemic and long-standing abusive behavior in the country’s music industry, including other major labels.

While much of the information in Sunday’s report had already been reported, many details were new, including an internal Sony parody video featuring Handlin disguised as Adolf Hitler in which he proudly raps about the aggressive culture of the company.

The report, which aired on ABC’s “Four Corners,” says key executives at Sony Music in New York City were made aware of Handlin’s behavior in 1998 after an incident for which he was suspended for a while. time but was then reinstated and became more abusive than already. At the time, Sony Music was under the direction of Tommy Mottola; Sony Music has undergone several leadership changes over the intervening years, with current chairman Rob Stringer taking the helm in 2017.

Contacted by Variety, a Sony representative sent the following statement on Monday: “We take all allegations of bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behavior by our employees very seriously and investigate them vigorously. It is only recently that claims have surfaced and we are dealing with them quickly. We are unable to comment further on the allegations of events that occurred more than 20 years ago, especially since the people involved at that time are no longer with the company. To the extent that these issues have arisen, Sony Music has considered them. “

While representatives declined to comment further, a source within the company pointed out that senior executives at Sony Music had not received any further reports of abusive behavior in its Australian office until early this year. At the end of June, Stringer announced that Handlin had stepped down on June 25 after 51 years with the company, including 37 years as chief executive and chairman.

However, according to the report, the abusive culture Handlin instilled in the company – aspects of which were prevalent in the country’s music industry – was widely known throughout Australian business and industry. “Four Corners,” citing interviews with more than 100 current and former Sony employees as part of an investigation into “decades of systemic bullying, discrimination and corporate misconduct under the toxic Handlin regime “Says that” the company’s global headquarters were aware of the alleged abuses, but failed to protect its Australian staff for nearly 40 years.

Handlin’s second in command, former Sony Music Australia CFO Alan Terrey, told the outlet: “What has upset most of us… [Sony] New York said, “Oh, we just found out about this problem, it just came out,” Terrey said. This is such a load of hogwash.

Terrey said senior executives at the company were regularly singled out by Handlin and humiliated. “His day-to-day dealings with people were pretty much at the management level, so these were the people who really faced the abuse and toxic behavior,” he said. “Sometimes he would bring inferior servants to a board meeting and absolutely destroy them in front of his superior. But it was inflicted on everyone, no one escaped.

Longtime company executive Eleanor McKay said she had witnessed widespread bullying. “The nicest thing I can say about Denis is that he was sort of an equal opportunity abuser,” she said. “He was as mean to men as he was to women.”

However, another executive, former senior executive Matthew McQuade, said the company workplace tolerates “laddish language” and objectification from women.

“I was standing with Denis and he started making sexual comments about an employee I had just hired… the breasts, the physique, that sort of thing,” McQuade said. “Four Corners” said it confirmed that at least seven women were made redundant while on maternity leave over a six-year period until 2013; all were paid in cash.

In a statement to ‘Four Corners’, Handlin said, “I have always supported and encouraged women in the industry and have personally championed diversity. I would never tolerate treating women in an inappropriate or discriminatory manner. At all times I was made aware of this kind of behavior, I took steps to make sure it was stopped and was not happening again. The report states that by the late 1990s, Handlin’s leadership had resulted in annual staff turnover of up to 50 percent.

Human Resources Director Greg Lockhart told “Four Corners” that he reported Handlin’s behavior to Sony Music’s global headquarters in New York on several occasions during the 1990s, but his concerns were ignored. until June 1998, when a visiting US executive also reported Handlin’s conduct. After a request from the world office, Lockhart and three other executives, including Terry, wrote a report that said in part, “Working for Denis actually means you don’t work for Sony Music. You are not a director or a manager: you are a “rewarded” servant as long as you serve his, and only his purpose. Life revolves completely around Denis and the “cult” of his personality, ”the report said.

In the report, “common and daily events” involving Handlin included:

He is violent every day

Enters frequent mad rages of screaming and intimidation

Deliberately intends to destroy people for power

Constantly humiliates staff during meetings

Likes to intimidate staff

Can’t treat women as equals

Two pages of the report were devoted to concerns about Handlin’s drinking habits, including that he was “very abusive and aggressive towards Sony staff and others when drunk.”

Lockhart explained how Handlin ordered him to fire people for “not smiling at him”, “not liking someone’s physical appearance” or “for being pregnant.” He also said: “Denis’ level of obsession with total control is such that I have been asked on a dozen different occasions to have staff tracked by private investigators,” Lockhart wrote.

Handlin was suspended and an investigation was then launched with 10 Australian executives flown to New York for interviews about their experiences, but three months later Handlin returned to his post – for another two decades. Nine of the 10 executives involved in the Sony head office complaint left the Australian company within four years.

Lockhart said he was not convinced by claims of ignorance from senior management regarding Handlin’s behavior and the Australian company culture.

“For them to just say, ‘Oh, we found out about a month or two months ago,’ that’s just unbelievable,” he said.


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