Over 100 current and former Sony Music Australia employees have spoken out on a culture of systemic bullying, discrimination, and misconduct under former chief executive Denis Handlin.
Facing the Music, a Four Corners exposé set to chronicle the rise-and-fall of one of the most powerful players in Australian music will air tonight at 8:30 pm.
The documentary, reported by Grace Tobin, will examine the toxic culture of Sony Music under the reign of Handlin, promising to reveal “the inside story, where fear and intimidation stalked the corridors for decades.”
Handlin abruptly left Sony Music on June 21, after more than 51 years with the company, with a 37-year tenure at the top. His departure was confirmed in an internal email distributed by the company’s New York-based global chairman, Rob Stringer.
The internal email said: “I am writing to let you know that Denis Handlin will be leaving Sony Music Entertainment after more than 50 years with the Company, effective immediately.”
Handlin’s departure followed multiple reports published by Sydney Morning Herald about allegations of discrimination, bullying, and harassment within Sony Music Australia.
Sony Music’s global head office announced it was investigating the “workplace culture,” but wrote that Handlin’s departure was due to a “time for a change of leadership”.
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Speaking with ABC, Sony Music Australia’s former finance director, Alan Terrey, who worked as Handlin’s second-in-command for 14 years, dubbed the statement “a load of hogwash.”
“The thing that has upset most of us … was that [Sony] New York said, ‘Oh, we just found out about this problem, this has just come to light’,” Terrey said.
The report alleges that Sony Music’s global head office in New York were notified about Handlin’s behaviour on multiple occasions throughout the 1990s, but the complaints were ignored.
The situation escalated in June 1986, after an executive from the US reported Handlin’s conduct. Greg Lockhardt, Sony’s head of HR in the ’90s, was tasked with writing a report detailing Handlin’s behaviour.
The document, which was co-authored with three other executives, including Alan Terrey, detailed examples of Handlin’s “abusive” management style, which included “frequent mad rages of screaming and bullying,” “humiliation” and “intimidation” of staff, and Handlin’s inability to treat women as equals. It was never published.
Following the report, Handlin was suspended and 10 Australian executives were flown to New York for one-on-one interviews with the head office. Ultimately, to no avail — three months into the suspension, the global head office announced that Handlin would return.
The report details that there was a “laddish” culture within the ranks of Sony, where discrimination and objectification of women was rife.
“It allowed people who wanted to have that laddish view of life the free rein to do it,” said former senior manager Matthew McQuade. “There were no consequences for doing it because ultimately one person held all the power. He set the tone.”
Four Corners confirmed that at least seven female employees were made redundant whilst on maternity leave over a six-year period in 2013.
An internal staff video obtained by Four Corners crystallises Handlin’s sinister, aggressive mentality “we all sleep better when we fuck EMI,” Handlin chants, whilst dressed as Adolf Hitler.
“I remember in the sales meetings he’d get everyone to chant, ‘Fuck EMI. Fuck Warner’,” Eleanor McKay, who joined Sony in 1986, said. “It wasn’t enough to go, ‘We’re great, we’re the best’, it’s like, ‘Everybody else is shit’.”
Following the departure of Handlin, amid the global head office’s “workplace culture” investigation, four other Sony executives have left the company with no explanation.
In a statement, Sony Music Entertainment said, “We take all allegations of bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behaviour from our employees very seriously and investigate them vigorously”.
“Only recently did claims surface and we are examining them expeditiously.”
Greg Lockhart says this response is “insulting,” and that the global head office should take accountability for ignoring the welfare of its Australian staff for decades.
“For them to just say, ‘Oh, we found out about it a month ago or two months ago,’ it’s just implausible,” he said. “It’s insulting to everyone that’s worked there and copped this abuse for all those years.”