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Company Town : Geffen Records Has Prepared for Life After Its Namesake : Music: If David Geffen was the vision of the firm, incoming Chair Ed Rosenblatt is its heart, says former mentor Mo Ostin.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For 15 years, David Geffen has dominated the rock music business from an old two-story office on Sunset Boulevard, home to Geffen Records, the most successful independent label in the entertainment industry.

But on Friday, the 52-year-old record mogul will take his final bow as chairman of the firm and walk out the door when his five-year contract expires with MCA Inc., the Universal City-based conglomerate just purchased by Seagram Co.

Before vacating the premises, however, Geffen will promote his longtime president and friend, Ed Rosenblatt, to succeed him.

“It makes me sad when I try to imagine that last walk out, but with Eddie at the helm I know the company is in good hands,” said Geffen, who exits his namesake company for DreamWorks SKG, an entertainment venture he launched in October with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. “Eddie has been my partner since the day we opened Geffen Records, and I feel great pride in passing the torch and watching him take over this amazing company we created.”

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While the media tends to focus on Geffen’s deft entrepreneurial instincts, many of his competitors save their praise for the media-shy Rosenblatt. Insiders tip their hats to his savvy marketing and artist relations skills and credit him with assembling the firm’s highly regarded executive team.

Last year, that team helped Geffen corner 3.35% of the U.S. market and generated a whopping $500 million in album sales worldwide--twice the amount the firm took in before it was purchased by MCA five years ago. With 10 albums on the pop chart this week, the West Hollywood label continues to account for more than a quarter of the total global revenue of MCA’s music division.

Few insiders doubt that Rosenblatt has what it takes to usher Geffen Records into the 21st Century.

“Eddie is not only capable of carrying on where David left off, I believe he’s going to push the company to new heights,” said industry titan Mo Ostin, the former Warner Bros. Records chairman who mentored Rosenblatt during his nine-year tenure as a Warner sales executive. “If you think of David as the vision behind Geffen Records, then Eddie is the heart. That label is not just profitable; it’s got hipness and heat, and Eddie is the glue that has held it together all these years.”

Rosenblatt, a 60-year-old New York native who entered the music business four decades ago as a sales rep for an independent Ohio record distributor, has helped Geffen Records reinvent itself several times since the company opened its doors.

The label exploded on the scene in 1980 after signing such superstars as Elton John, Donna Summer and John Lennon, but it sunk into a sudden five-year slump shortly after the former Beatle was murdered. Geffen got its second wind in 1986 following hits from Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Don Henley and Whitesnake, and it never looked back.

The recent departure of top executives Gary Gersh, John David Kalodner and Tom Zutaut, followed by the death of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain and the exit of superstars Aerosmith and Don Henley, might have crippled a weaker company, but Rosenblatt and Geffen saw it as a chance to give the label another face lift.

Rosenblatt hired a new-talent acquisition team and revamped the artist roster, which helped pump 1994 profit past the $100-million mark, thanks in part to commercial blockbusters from newcomers Counting Crows and Weezer, as well as the addition of such critic darlings as Hole, Beck, Veruca Salt and Elastica.

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“We’ve reinvented ourselves so many times at this company, none of us has any fear of change. In fact, we welcome it,” Rosenblatt said. “But this is a moment I’ve been preparing to deal with for a long time. It should be the smoothest transition at the executive level that any record label has ever seen. David and I have worked so close for so long, it would be like if Lenny Waronker had actually taken over at Warner Bros. after Mo split.”

Although Geffen leaves the label this week to devote himself full-time to DreamWorks, the speculation is that his relationship with Rosenblatt is far from over.

Insiders say DreamWorks’ music division will probably cut a distribution deal with MCA soon, allowing albums released on Geffen’s new label to be marketed and distributed through Rosenblatt’s team at his old namesake.

Sources also predict that by summer’s end, Ostin and longtime partner Waronker will be working at DreamWorks, attempting to turn Geffen’s new label into the hottest in the business.

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Rosenblatt and Ostin denied the rumors, as did Geffen. “The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t depend on the past if you want to stay on top of the game,” he said. “Yesterday won’t help you figure out tomorrow. You have to look forward. It takes dreams and dedication and it isn’t easy. You have to work hard and hope you get lucky.”


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