Stuck into Sugababes' spent gum
No woman is crying about the fact that at Island Records they work in Bob Marley’s old London recording studio. No man either. Steve Musters cannot quite believe that he gets paid to get up, stand up and lay down tracks for artists such as PJ Harvey, Busted and the Sugababes.
“If I weren’t paid, I would do this in my free time,” says Musters, 32, who has been running the studio for five years. “It is great to be at the heart of it all, even if that means removing chewing gum from every surface after the Sugababes have been in.”
His label is a division of Universal Music, a global market leader that encompasses Polydor, Mercury Records and Universal classics and jazz. It owns a roster of hits ranging from Marley’s classics to Sophie Ellis Bextor and Eminem numbers. The company is a subsidiary of the French firm Vivendi Universal, but is managed from New York. The British operation generates revenues of almost £570m.
As well as a group of offices and record labels in west London, it has a distribution centre in Milton Keynes and a finance and IT division in Romford, Essex. About half of its employees are aged under 35.
Universal wins our special award for the best improver, climbing from 45th last year to eighth. The record company scores highest with its staff for enjoyment and motivation — 84% say they love working for the firm, 88% have fun with their team and 84% feel they can make a valuable contribution. The company also scores well on training and 83% of staff say they get support from managers when they need to learn new skills.
Malcolm Swatton, the human resources director, has introduced innovative ways of spotting and nurturing talent, including paying students £1,500 a year to pick out talent in colleges, pubs and clubs.
After intensive in-house training (from a £500,000-a-year budget), Paul Smernicki and Joe Munns were set loose on their dream project: their own indie-style label called Fiction, with a mission to launch new types of bands. “Even though we have only just earned enough money for the electricity to light our attic, Universal has given us the chance to create a label,” says Smernicki.
The company rewards success. Managers in A&R (artists and repertoire) are paid a bonus tied to the sales of artists they have spotted. The man who discovered the Brit award-winning singer Daniel Bedingfield is definitely chuckling.
A performance-related bonus for other staff recently ranged from £220 to £231,190 and one-sixth of management employees collect profit-related pay. Holiday entitlement ranges from 25 to 28 days, but a new scheme will offer an extra five days. The firm is flexible about leave: one manager recently took four weeks off unpaid to take an extended trip.
People tend to stay with Universal and 90% of managerial jobs (and two-thirds of board positions) have been filled internally. Many staff buy a stake in the firm, taking advantage of a 20% discount on shares.
Lucian Grange, the chairman and chief executive, is renowned for shaking the floor of the office above when he is spinning his discs and everybody can dance to Universal’s music. Each employee gets two free CDs or DVDs a month and concert tickets worth £125 each year.
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