John Preston, the former BMG Entertainment chairman who guided the careers of the Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, M People and Take That and many more stars of the ‘70s through to the ‘90s, has died after a brief illness. He was 67.
“John made an outstanding contribution to the British music industry for well over three decades but most especially during the 1980s and 1990s – a period of remarkable growth for the sector,” notes the BPI in a tribute to the late executive, who served as chairman of the trade body from 1996-1997.
During his career, Preston served as Managing Director of Polydor Records UK (1984 – 1985), Managing Director of RCA Records UK (1985 – 1989) and then Chairman of BMG Entertainment (1989 – 1998), with executive stints at Decca and Universal Publishing along the way. Preston was also a trustee of the music industry charity The BRIT Trust during its formative years (1994 – 1998).
A graduate of Oxford University, Preston began his career in the 1970s, initially working for the chain of Bruce’s Record Shops in Scotland, before taking an artist development role with EMI Records in 1977. At EMI, Preston worked with the label’s young signing, Kate Bush. His career flourished and didn’t slow down until he stepped away — by his own choice — in the late ’90s.
He is recognised as being the first record company chairman to promote two women to the rank of label managing director: Lisa Anderson to RCA and Diana Graham to Arista. A third female executive, Alison Wenham, (now chair and CEO of Worldwide Independent Network) ran Conifer Records, initially independently, but then under his chairmanship as part of the BMG umbrella.