Major label news: Max Hole steps down at Universal

Major label news: Max Hole steps down at Universal


norman lebrecht

October 21, 2015

This has been expected, but it’s devastating nonetheless. Max Hole has been a huge advocate of classical music during his years as chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group International. He is a very warm, intelligent man, quick to appreciate talent in all forms.

Last winter, Max caught encephalitis in India which landed him in intensive care. Recovery has been slow and he has now decided to leave the job he loved and performed so well. We send him all good wises for a continued recovery. Many of his colleagues wept hot tears this morning on receiving the internal memo below from Lucian Grainge.

You read it here first (with permission).


Max Hole with a recovering tenor
Max Hole with Rolando Villazon in happier times

Dear Colleagues:

As many of you know, this past January, Max Hole contracted encephalitis while travelling in India. As a result he has suffered some memory loss which has prevented him from returning to work.

Max’s absence has been difficult for a great many of us throughout all of UMG. As for myself, I can tell you that I’ve missed him, both personally and professionally, every single day he’s been gone. Max has been my close friend and confidante for almost 30 years.

While his condition has consistently improved over the past nine months and his recovery is making progress, Max has informed me that he has decided, in the best interests of the company, to step down as Chairman and CEO of UMGI, effective immediately. Going forward, our region heads will report directly to me while the central UMGI functions in London will report to Boyd. More organizational updates will follow. I want to thank all of Max’s direct reports who have risen to the challenge of Max’s absence and managed our international business without missing a beat.

Max is extremely proud that he has been a part of the UMG family for nearly two decades and has derived great happiness from all of our company’s recent accomplishments. It’s hard to find someone who loves this company and this business more than Max does, and we owe it to him to continue our work with the same level of professionalism and passion he brought to the office every day. I’m hopeful that as his recovery continues, he’ll be able to work with us on projects in the future.

In the meantime, please join me in thanking Max. To list all the things we have to thank him for would just embarrass him. Instead, let me just simply say, thank you, Max.



UPDATE: Here’s the official announcement:

Santa Monica, October 21, 2015 – Universal Music Group (UMG), the world’s leading music company, announced today that Max Hole will be stepping down from his role as Chairman and Chief Executive of Universal Music Group International (UMGI), effective immediately.

In January, Max contracted encephalitis, as a result of which he has suffered some memory loss. While he is making progress towards a recovery, a full resumption of his responsibilities is not possible at this time. As Max’s recovery continues, he and the company will discuss projects in which Max will have continuing involvement. Following Max’s departure, the company’s regional heads (for those regions outside the U.S.) will report directly to UMG Chairman and CEO, Lucian Grainge.

In making the announcement, Max said, “I have loved working at Universal, the best record company in the world. Lucian is an extraordinary person, both an exceptional creative and business executive for whom I have great affection. We have known each other for a very, very long time and I’m so glad we remain friends. I love so many of my colleagues around the world that there are too many to name, but I’d like to mention my close friends Boyd Muir, Richard Constant, David Joseph, Frank Briegmann, Pascal Nègre, George Ash, Jesus Lopez and Andrew Kronfeld. Finally, there are our incredible artists, some I have been close to and some I have watched and loved from a distance. I wish our artists and Universal a hugely successful future.”

Grainge said, “Max Hole is one of the most talented and accomplished executives to have ever worked in the music business, with an undying passion for music. He has been one of our industry’s most effective champions, opening new markets and creating opportunities for artists and fans everywhere. Max’s contributions to Universal will be forever a part of the fabric of this company and our industry, and he leaves with our deepest gratitude and respect.”

Max joined UMGI in 1998 as Senior Vice President, Marketing and A&R. In 2004, he was promoted to Executive Vice President and subsequently added responsibility for Digital, Strategic Marketing and Commercial Affairs, as well as Asia Pacific and Nordic/Central/Eastern Europe. He was appointed COO of UMGI in 2010 and in 2013 was appointed Chairman and CEO of UMGI.

Max began his music industry career as an independent artist manager and record producer. In 1982, he joined Warner Music UK as A&R Manager, rising to Managing Director of WEA Records and, in 1990, founding Managing Director of East West Records. During his 16 years at the company, he was involved with such successful artists as Simply Red, Tori Amos, Pretenders, Sisters of Mercy, Chris Rea and the Corrs, among many others.

Max was recognized in the Queen’s 2015 Birthday Honours List and awarded Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to the music industry.


  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    So sad. Let’s hope he can return to doing what he loves best in music. An iconic figure indeed.

  • Holger H. says:

    Really, he has been an advocate of classical music within Universal? Wow, that gives me headache at a time when you thought it couldn’t get worse for classical music in DG anymore. (last 10-15 years)
    Maybe the biggest problem of Deutsche Grammophone in the recent years was, that they had almost completely forgotten or suppressed why half of the company’s name is “Deutsche”, up to a CEO who didn’t even speak the language, which is now in the past fortunately. Sure it’s a global market now, but actually it is a market with its strongest pillars in Germany and Asia… Why should Brits run this company?

  • Anonymous says:

    The comment about markets in Asia is spot on. With a Korean (Seong-Jin Cho) just winning a major competition for the first time ever, this is more relevant than ever.

  • Franklin Miller says:

    While Universal Music can certainly see the importance of the Asian market, they refuse to have top level senior Asian managers in their London office.

    Sorry to say, but as far as classical music recording development goes, Max Hole presided over one the darkest chapters in the history of Deutsche Grammophon and Decca. I met the man on three occasions and while he repeated the same worn out mantra about how classical music needs to be popularised, he quite honestly didn’t have a clue about serious buyers of classical music, nor how to keep them as the loyal customers that they were. He allowed the very British Mark Wilkinson to be named president of Deutsche Grammophon. Forget that the guy couldn’t speak a word of German, forget that he didn’t have an international profile or look, forget that he didn’t have a real knowledge of the DG catalogue. For Max Hole this was not important. The appointment was an utter failure and a tremendous loss of money and image at a time when DG could I’ll afford it. Perhaps he was more competent in pop, but overseeing classical activities, he was yet another suit that didn’t have a clue.