Sony sacked Denis Handlin a week after it received media inquires about a toxic work culture in its Australian offices.
Guardian Australia approached Sony’s head office in New York with multiple complaints from former employees.
On Monday, chairman Rob Stringer issued a statement confirming Handlin will be leaving “effective immediately”.
Most powerful person in Australian music
Handlin had been the most powerful person in the Australian music industry for decades.
He started in the mail room at Sony and went on to become chief executive for 37 years, and its chairman since 1996.
He played a pivotal role in the success of artists including John Farnham, Men at Work and Midnight Oil.
Additionally, he is the Australian Recording Industry Association’s longest serving board member.
He is also an officer of the Order of Australia since 2017 for his services to the industry.
Sony sacks Handlin a week after media inquiries
However, a months-long investigation by Guardian Australia has revealed Handlin oversaw a “boy’s club” and toxic work culture at Sony.
The publication spoke to more than 20 former Sony employees.
Their complaints include allegations of sexual harassment, intimidating behaviour, alcohol abuse and unfair treatment of women.
Former staff described being groped at work functions, being pressured to drink and bullying behaviour by Handlin in meetings.
They also allege Sony Australia used non-genuine redundancies to get rid off staff who fell pregnant.
Many former staff claim they suffered mental health issues as a result of working at the company.
One said she joined alcoholics anonymous the day she quit.
Time for a change of leadership
Guardian Australia sent a letter outlining the allegations to Sony’s New York head office on 14 June after investigating them for several months.
At 10.30 on Monday morning, Stringer sent the following statement to all staff at Sony’s Australian and New Zealand offices:
“I am writing to let you know that Denis Handlin will be leaving Sony Music Entertainment after more than 50 years with the Company, effective immediately.
“It is time for a change in leadership and I will be making further announcements in terms of the new direction of our business in Australia and New Zealand in due course.
“My team and I will be speaking further to your team leaders about this process throughout the week, but at this point I wanted to let everyone know this news at the same time.
“We thank Denis for his extraordinary contribution to the Company and its artists over his long career in the Australian and New Zealand music industry.”
Sony knew about toxic work practices for years
Despite the swift action by head office, James*, a longstanding music industry executive who also served on the Aria board with Handlin for six years, told Guardian Australia the company was aware of toxic work practices since at least the mid-1990s.
“They know about the tequila shots in the meetings, the boat cruises, the pretty girls all lined up or moved to the front, the verbal abuse, the NDAs.
“But head office goes, ‘Well, that’s just Australia, as long as the targets are being met, and the hits are being made.’”
Reckoning for industry
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan says the music industry is long overdue for a reckoning on sexual harassment.
“We have seen it in Hollywood, politics and the legal profession, and it’s about time the music industry had a clean out,” he said.
“The days of ‘boy’s clubs’ excessive drinking, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination are over.
“People are simply not going to put up with it anymore.”
Mr Heffernan says he is not surprised by Sony’s decision to dump Handlin.
“Toxic work environments can have a terrible impact on people’s lives – leading to mental and physical health issues,” he said.
“And that opens the door to multi-million dollar lawsuits.
“You can bet the head honchos at Sony in New York are terrified of huge compensation claims from former staff.”
Fox News reportedly paid more than $100 million in compensation to multiple victims of sexual harassment at the hands of CEO Roger Ailes and presenter Bill O’Reilly.
Women urgently promoted
The Guardian also reports that in February, Sony Music Australia announced the promotion of four female staff to senior levels.
Three weeks later it announced a further four promotions of female staff.
The flurry of promotions came when the company had been investigating complaints about workplace culture.
Former employee Maryanne said:
“It’s so bloody obvious to all of us who have worked there that they’ve just done it to make themselves look good.
“There hasn’t been any female promotions like that for years… and it wasn’t for lack of female talent within that company.
“There were so many amazing women that worked there.”
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