The executive chairs appear to be shuffling again at EMI Group, the giant British conglomerate that releases music by such pop stars as Garth Brooks and the Spice Girls.
In an interview last week, EMI Group Chairman Sir Colin Southgate insisted that EMI Chief Executive James Fifield would continue running the music division until his contract runs out March 31, 1999.
On Monday, however, nearly a dozen British papers published reports leaked from "insiders" that Fifield would leave soon and be paid an $18-million settlement. Responding to media speculation in London regarding Fifield's exit package, EMI issued a statement confirming that talks were underway to determine his future role at the company.
Fifield denied Tuesday that he had received a settlement, saying he was surprised and angered by the latest onslaught of articles in the British media.
"These stories are making it impossible for me to perform my duties as CEO of this company," Fifield said. "It's embarrassing. I don't blame Colin Southgate personally for putting this stuff out there, but I do hold him responsible for managing confidential information within his organization."
Southgate did not return calls Tuesday.
Fifield said a representative for the EMI board approached his attorney nine days ago with an offer to settle his contract.
"It was what I consider to be a low-ball offer--way off the mark," Fifield said. "The fact is I haven't even had a chance yet to meet with my attorney to offer a proper response."
Fifield, who earns nearly $10 million a year in salary and bonuses, is one of the highest-paid executives of any British corporation. His contract reportedly includes a breach provision that would require EMI to pay triple his average annual earnings should they want him to leave before his contract runs out.
Sources at EMI said Fifield is likely to leave the company before the annual board meeting in May and could walk away with a buyout package worth $20 million or more.
Last week, the company's top music executives under Fifield, Ken Berry and Martin Bandier, were told EMI does not intend to hire anyone to replace Fifield, sources said.