Susan Davenport Austin, Chair of BMI
“I was always taught growing up that the only place you will find success before work is in the dictionary.”
As the new chair at BMI, Susan Davenport Austin becomes one of the most powerful and influential women in radio
Recently Susan Davenport Austin was elected by her peers, as chairwoman of the Board of Directors of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) at the annual meeting of the company’s shareholders. She became the first woman and the first Black woman to serve in that capacity; previously, she was the vice chair.
Austin came to BMI with an impressive resume in telecommunications, banking and academia, not only in the radio broadcast industry, but also in media finance in general. Prior to being elected to chair BMI, she had been Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Sheridan Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and President of the Sheridan Gospel Network which was founded by her family in 1972. Sheridan is the majority owner and manager of American Urban Radio Networks, the number one ranked radio network reaching African Americans in the U.S.
Before coming to SBC, Austin worked at Goldman, Sachs & Co., Bear, Stearns & Co. and Salomon Brothers Inc. In addition, she holds a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard University and an M.B.A. from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
The Los Angeles Sentinel recently interviewed Austin about her new position at BMI, and about her future goals and objectives for the company.
Los Angeles Sentinel (LAS): “Outside the broadcast industry, the name BMI is not well known, would you mind telling me, and particularly the public, what does BMI really do?”
Susan D. Austin (SDA): “BMI basically ensures that the writers of music get paid for their work … the creative people. So as a general rule, most people who listen to the radio tend to think that the person who performs the song is the person who wrote that song, and sometimes they didn’t. And what BMI does is to make certain that the songwriter – whose name may never occur – actually does in fact get paid for that song.”
LAS: “And of course, that’s very important?”
SDA: “Take for example, when Whitney Houston recently passed, part of the song from the Bodyguard was actually written by Dolly Parton.”
LAS: “I wasn’t aware of that until her recent passing …”
SDA: “…exactly, so that’s something where she had in fact, I think sung it a long time ago. Most people, it would never occur to them, that in fact, Dolly is the one who is going to get paid for that song as the writer. But Dolly is obviously so well-known, but there are so many others whose names are not as well-known but whose songs are very well known, this is to make certain that they get paid for their creative work.”
LAS: “As the first woman … not just woman, but as the first Black woman to chair BMI … what are some of your goals and objectives?”
SDA: “As the chair, you’re generally trying to help an organization develop strategy and plans for the future. Clearly part of looking at strategy and the growth of the company and seeing how that evolves because that’s the life blood of any company. And whatever, I can do to help BMI’s tradition … developing people regardless of what their backgrounds are … I am just making sure that they have the opportunities… and I think that’s the best thing for the organization.”
LAS: “Prior to assuming the helm of BMI, what do you think prepared you to take on this monumental task … you have an amazing resume … was a Harvard student … taking over your family business …but what do you think are some of the key things that brought you into this position?”
SDA: Well, there are a few things … one, I have a financial background and that certainly was helpful in terms of my getting involved with the board to begin with … having a good understanding of numbers and everything else … and always trying to do better … and what we have to make sure that what we are doing is providing opportunities for the best in the business.
LAS: What advice or guidance can you give to our young readers and persons interested in pursuing a career similar to yours?
SDA: I think it’s just like any other industry in that, the reality is you have to work hard. I was always taught growing up that the only place you will find success before work is in the in the dictionary.
LAS: Wow that’s a great quote, I like that!
SDA: I got it from my parents (laughs)… The opportunities are there, you just have to work for them. It’s never easy, there will always be challenges…but this is a fun industry with talented people…the difference is a willingness to work hard to maintain integrity in what you are doing and deliver what you say you will deliver. And I think you have to believe in yourself and you have to recognize that you have something you can contribute. You have something to say and what you say is worth hearing but you also have to be willing to listen. I think so often we get so busy saying things that we are not listening to what other people are saying to us. And as a result we miss out on learning things that we could so easily learned if we just stopped paused and listened for a minute. Again, the opportunities are there. I’m excited by them and I think we have some really great young people who should really be excited by the opportunities presented. To put it very bluntly in terms of the African American world, yes you really can be President of the United States, if you work hard and do what you need to do. I think you should always dream big and then you should do what will work in the integrity that actually will help achieve those dreams.
LAS: Is there anything else you would like to share with the public about BMI or where we can find more information on your company?
SDA: I talked about our basic goal is getting songwriters paid but BMI is really so much more than that. Not every song is a hit song. But in terms of education about the business, again whatever endeavor you do you want to make certain you do the work that you get educated in terms of what you need to do and what the opportunities are, and how you can improve your craft improve your talents and I think what’s really nice about BMI is a lot of the workshops BMI provides for writers to learn the craft of songwriting. You should definitely go to BMI.com and learn the opportunities that are there.
For more information on Susan Austin and BMI visit www.bmi.com