Diversifying The Boardroom: Are We There Yet?

Businessman standing on conference table

Photo illustration by Getty Images

As Pollstar unveils its fifth Impact 50 class in the May 15, 2023 issue, it’s as good a time as any to look at not just the 2023 honorees but to take a step back and see what’s changed since the first group of the industry’s most impactful leaders was identified and rolled out in 2019.

Of course, 2019 was the last year of relative normality in the concert industry before COVID flipped the script of what “impactful” means.

In the following years, Pollstar included those whose impact was felt not in the traditional definition of “live” but in streaming – live and otherwise – as well as in organizing (NIVA and NITO come to mind), lobbying and even some in governmental roles.

But since COVID restrictions on large public gatherings largely fell last year, the industry still grapples with the challenges of ramping up an entire industry that went completely dark for almost two years and continues to face existential challenges.

For the most part, 2022 and ’23 mark the return – and then some – of touring in force. Notice we’re not calling it “business as usual.” The world has changed too much for that.

The global pandemic was not the only event that affected our business between 2020-22. The Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and Time’s Up movements shone a harsh light on inequities across society, and the concert industry was not exempt from the kind of self-examination needed to reflect the world it serves.

And, if there was a silver lining to COVID, it created a window of opportunity to meaningfully address change.

Many companies established Diversity, Equity and Inclusion departments and partnered with advocacy organizations like Color of Change, She Is The Music, Diversify the Stage, Roadies of Color United, Femme It Forward and more to address the glaring discrepancies between what’s seen on, behind and in front of the stage – from the boardroom to the production office to the music fans on whom the industry depends.

Over the span of four years and five Impact 50 unveilings, a lot has changed and some things have not changed much.

There are perennials – those who have been honored every year since Impact 50 debuted in 2019. Michael Rapino, Live Nation President and CEO; Shawn Gee, Live Nation Urban President; David Zedeck, United Talent Agency partner and Global Co-Head of Music; and founders and CEOs Dennis Arfa of Artist Group International; Paul Tollett of Goldenvoice and Coran Capshaw of Red Light Management. All of these men are giants in the industry and no credible enumeration of industry leaders is thinkable without them.

These are also people taking the lead to enact change within their companies and also on the stage – promoting new and different faces and supporting new genres and superstars who are changing the game in ways not seen since Frank Sinatra and Doris Day abdicated the top of the music charts to the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley.

Among the Top 10 of Pollstar’s Top 200 Worldwide Tours from 2022 are two Latin artists: Bad Bunny and Daddy Yankee. Bad Bunny had the No. 1 tour running away with more than 2.1 million tickets sold across 73 shows.

In the first quarter of 2023, you can add Korean boy band Seventeen to Bad Bunny and Daddy Yankee in the Top 10 tours, with Grupo Firme, the “Coca Cola Flow Fest” with Anuel AA, ENYPEN, JJ Lin and Wisin & Yandel among the artists bubbling just below.

Without champions at the very highest levels, many of these top-grossing artists might be languishing in marginalized niche genres rather than, say, headlining the tastemaking Coachella festival as Bad Bunny, Blackpink and Frank Ocean (at least for the first weekend) did in 2023.

Who controls the levers in the live industry impacts society, if we all subscribe to the notion that music can change the world. Diversifying the concert industry’s executive ranks can only help to effect that change.

And it’s happening: veterans Henry Cárdenas at Cardenas Marketing Network; Cara Lewis, founder of Cara Lewis Group; Judi Marmel, co-founder of Levity Live; and Robert Gibbs, partner and co-head of Atlanta for UTA have been honored multiple times, as have AGI’s Marsha Vlasic, UTA’s Samantha Kirby-Yoh, Wasserman’s Corrie Martin, WME’s Kevin Shivers, Femme It Forward’s Heather Lowery and C3 Presents’ Amy Corbin, all power players who bring their live – and life – experience to the table.

Pollstar’s Impact 50 strives to identify not only long-established industry leaders but the rising stars to whom the baton is being, or soon will be, passed. While executive C-suites and boardrooms are looking less white and male than they did 10 or even five years ago, progress is being made even if it seems not nearly quickly enough.

Among women and people of color taking their seats at the table in recent years, and making the kind of impact that merits inclusion in Impact 50, are Live Nation’s Omar Al-joulani and Lesley Olenik, Rimas Entertainment’s Noah Assad, WME’s Lucy Dickins, CAA’s Carole Kinzel and Marlene Tsuchii, Madison Square Garden Co.’s Josephine Vaccarello, Sandbox Entertainment’s Leslie Cohea and Goldenvoice’s Stacy Vee.

And 2023 honorees that took power into their own hands by starting their own companies include Black Promoters Collective’s Gary Guidry, Music VIP Entertainment’s Isael Gutiérrez and SALXCO’s Wassim “Sal” Slaiby.

When Gee founded Live Nation Urban in 2017, a joint venture with Live Nation, it was built upon the principle of addressing inclusivity in the industry.

“We still have a very long way to go, but I definitely see some improvements. Some new Black and Brown entrepreneurs are entering the space, I see some board of director appointments that wouldn’t have been made five years ago,” Gee, an Impact 50 five-timer, says. “I would definitely still like to see more diversity at the very top of the live music industry, in C-suite positions and also would love to see more investment/venture capital flowing into ideas generated by diverse founders in the space.

“We need to make sure that the changes and improvements that we see aren’t performative in nature, they need to be woven into the fabric or DNA of the industry so that the next generation of live music senior-level executives and entrepreneurs have a lot more Black, Brown and female participants than this generation does.”