Ousted NARAS/Grammy CEO Deborah Dugan dug her own grave. She arrived with good intentions, but she ultimately her own worst enemy.
Problems began last spring, right after she was hired. Dugan refused to get on a plane and come west for the taping of the Grammy Special Merit/Lifetime Achievement concert at the Dolby Theater. Even though this was outgoing CEO Neil Portnow’s event for the Grammys, Dugan surprised the artists and guests by having no interest in the proceedings. That was the beginning of trouble. Acts like Black Sabbath, Sam Moore, Valerie Simpson, Dionne Warwick, Julio Iglesias, and veteran producer Lou Adler were involved. Everyone at the event asked, Where is the new CEO? The answer was, no one knew.
Portnow was successful at the job for almost 20 years based on one simple lesson: showing up is 90% of the job. Neil made sure he spoke at every minor Grammy related event. He was the music business’s representative. He knew everyone, and met anyone he didn’t. Last fall, I continually asked my sources in the business, What is Deborah Dugan like? No one knew. She’d made no effort to win over people in the business who mattered. This was shocking.
Sources tell me now that Dugan deeply offended the Recording Academy staff. She was particularly brutal to Portnow’s former assistant, who’d been with the Academy since before Neil’s reign. Dugan also set her sights on taking down some of the entrenched NARAS dealmakers, who’d formed decades of alliances with each other. She can threaten (as she has through her lawyer this morning in the New York Times) to “expose” bad practices or whatever, but no one cares.
There was a throwaway line in Billboard’s story this morning, that Dugan hadn’t planned on speaking during the Grammy broadcast. I think that crystallizes the whole situation. Portnow always addressed the TV audience. He created a community. That Dugan was planning to remain invisible speaks to her lack of savvy about how to run this organization.