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Joe Kennedy Departs Pandora

March 8, 2013

Pandora’s CEO Joe Kennedy announced today that he’s leaving the company.  Lots of rumors about who will succeed him, but nothing definite.

Joe’s taken some knocks lately (including here at MTP) as a result of the whole IRFA miscalculation–but that had better not be the reason that he’s leaving.  A CEO–particularly a public company CEO–has a lot to do and tends to rely on the lobbyists and PR folks that his company hires to know what they’re doing.  There’s only so much attention a CEO can really devote to worrying about DC versus worrying about his employees and stockholders.  Of course, the CEO is going to get blamed if the genius of these lobbyists and PR mavens falls short, even if the board approved the strategy and was in on it.  Blamed rightly or wrongly, and in my view if he’s being blamed for IRFA, he’s being blamed wrongly.

It’s very tricky stuff to build a company that blends the culture of tech companies with the music culture.  The two do not relate well to each other and tend to attract very different people.  Engineers typically work in large teams and don’t ever plan on owning what they make or having it last 100 years.  Musicians and artists typically work alone or in very small teams, plan on controlling every aspect of their work product and somehow feel they haven’t really made it until they have an “evergreen” song or record.  Joe Kennedy managed a company that blended both kinds of people and evolved its own culture.  They built a product anyone could be proud of–heck, I know people who are proud of it and never even worked there.  That’s a big deal, and we should all remember that Joe did that–not alone, but he did it.  Joe’s not a records man, but a records man would have been wrong for the job.

In fact, I’d say that where he screwed up was when he forgot about the need to blend those cultures–IRFA being a prime example.  I also think he miscalculated by not making a deal in the UK and Europe when he was close.  He overplayed his hand a bit with rate court and other bad advice.  Trying to negotiate by conducting what’s essentially a flame war only succeeds if the other side is afraid of being flamed.  If IRFA proved anything, it’s that those days are over.  Lighting doesn’t strike twice.  And I almost guarantee you that whoever comes after him will be more corporate, less a music person and will probably be a net negative for the company.

But the IRFA problem is really just a case of a CEO getting bad advice from people who are supposed to be experts.  So yes, he gets the blame because the buck has to stop somewhere.  But no, that misstep should never cloud the fact that Joe helped to build a great product that put a lot of money in the pockets of artists, musicians, vocalists and labels not to mention songwriters and music publishers.  He took his company public–a process that in and of itself is its own brand of torture.  And somehow managed to keep the music culture alive at Pandora while the company singlehandedly proved that webcasting could be a business.  And our business is the better for him.

  1. March 9, 2013 at 04:37

    Very well said Chris.

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  2. Terrie Bjorklund
    March 9, 2013 at 14:37

    Nice piece.

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  3. March 10, 2013 at 12:31

    Joe, like most Silicone Valley types, fails to understand the basic principles of the entertainment industry. Entertainment is what we do with our most valued possession which is our leisure time. A “star” is an entertainer having large audience that is worthwhile selling access to for advertisers, ticket and merchandise sellers. Access to a star’s audience always costs money. Any music service that can’t afford star talent isn’t worth advertising on or subscribing to. It is simply not a viable business model and magical thinking can’t make it one.

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