Deborah Dugan: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Deborah Dugan

Getty Deborah Dugan attends Billboard Women In Music 2019, presented by YouTube Music, on December 12, 2019.

Just 10 days before the 2020 Grammy Awards, celebrating the best in music over the last year, Recording Academy President and CEO Deborah Dugan was put on administrative leave.

The Recording Academy shared the news in a statement on Friday, January 17: “In light of concerns raised to the Recording Academy Board of Trustees, including a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy team, the board has placed Recording Academy President and CEO Deborah Dugan on administrative leave, effective immediately. The board has also retained two independent third-party investigators to conduct independent investigations of the allegations.”

The statement continued, elaborating on their reasons for placing Dugan on leave so swiftly: “The board determined this action to be necessary in order to restore the confidence of the Recording Academy’s membership, repair Recording Academy employee morale, and allow the Recording Academy to focus on its mission of serving all music creators. The Recording Academy Board of Trustees is committed to fostering a safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace, music industry, and society.”

Here’s what you need to know about Deborah Dugan:


1. Dugan Was Appointed in May 2019, Becoming the Recording Academy’s First Female President/CEO

Deborah Dugan Recording Academy

Recording Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan speaks during the 62nd Grammy Awards Nominations Conference at CBS Broadcast Center on November 20, 2019 in New York City.

In May 2016, it was announced that Deborah Dugan would replace the outgoing President and CEO of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow. The appointment was a historical one for the Recording Academy, as Dugan became the first female President and CEO of the organization. She officially stepped into the role and assumed its responsibilities on August 1, 2019.

According to the Recording Academy’s website, at the time of her appointment, Dugan said “I’m honored, humbled, and ready. The goal of the Recording Academy is to support, encourage, and advocate for those within the music community. I will listen to and champion all of those individuals, and lead this iconic organization into the future. I’m excited to get started.”

The Chair of the Board, John Poppo, also made a statement about the Recording Academy’s new CEO, saying “Deborah is a highly accomplished business executive and a visionary leader who also brings to this role a great passion for the mission of the Academy. The Board of Trustees is very eager to work with her as we embark on this next chapter in the Recording Academy’s story.”


2. Dugan Was Formerly the CEO of (RED)

Deborah Dugan RED

(RED) CEO Deborah Dugan attends as Montblanc And (RED) Launch The New (Montblanc M)RED Collection To Fight AIDS At New York’s World Of McIntosh Townhouse at on September 27, 2018 in New York City.

Before becoming CEO and President of the Recording Academy in 2019, Dugan was the CEO of the (RED) charity organization, founded by U2 frontman Bono. The organization partners with major brands to create products and experiences that help raise money and spread awareness with the intention of ending HIV/AIDS.

Of the significance and success of the (RED) organization, Dugan told ChangeMakerChats.com “People want products that stand for something. The truth is, people have lost faith in government, in the media, but they trust those brands in their close network. They expect companies to do good and have a sense of purpose.”

When Dugan left her role at (RED) for her position at the Recording Academy, Bono said in a statement “Music and social justice are no strangers — in fact, they can work in perfect harmony. We’ll miss Deb at (RED), but after helping the team raise more than $600 million for the fight against AIDS, she’ll always be part of the (RED) band, and I look forward to seeing what she’ll do in her new role, cracking the ceiling and helping the Recording Academy crack open a new future in the process.”


3. Dugan’s Attorney Says There Is More to the Story Than What the Recording Academy’s Statement Told

As news spread of Dugan’s administrative leave, her lawyer, Bryan Freedman, responded on her behalf, saying “What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told. When our ability to speak is not restrained by a 28-page contract and legal threats, we will expose what happens when you ‘step up’ at the Recording Academy, a public nonprofit.”

The New York Times reports that three weeks before Dugan was placed on leave, she sent a memo to the head of the Recording Academy’s human resource department, over concerns about practices within the organization. She cited voting irregularities, “exorbitant and unnecessary” legal bills, and conflicts of interest among her concerns that “something was seriously amiss at the Academy.”


4. Before Embarking on a Career in the Music Industry, Dugan Worked as an Attorney

Deborah Dugan earned her law degree after atteding the University of Utah law school. At the start of her career, Dugan was an attorney working on Wall Street. She left her lucrative position for a role as the head of the nonprofit Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and told Whitney Johnson in a podcast “So when they asked if I knew someone who could lead that organization, I said I would do it — for $70,000 less than I was making… People thought I was absolutely nuts. I was on track to be a partner. But it was one of the smartest things I ever did in my career.”

Of her decision, Dugan reflected to ChangeMakerChats.com that “I took the pay cut from Wall Street to follow what I love, music.”


5. Dugan Hoped to Bring a ‘Culture of Inclusivity’ Into Her Role at the Recording Academy

Before her position as CEO and President of the Recording Academy had officially begun, Dugan was already thinking about how she could use her past experience to implement positive change within the Recording Academy. She told the Los Angeles Times:

“I have a track record of going from law to marketing to entrepreneurial [innovation] and I’m looking for the opportunity to bring all that I’ve learned to the music industry that I love. I’ve had an unconventional past, and I’m quite millennial-minded, and I just love music and know how it touches all and brings people together… I think you’ll see from my work at The Moth, what I try to do is to amplify many voices in a world that often crushes them. I’m looking at this new opportunity as a way [for the academy] to serve, to be relevant and reflective of the artist community in a time of rapid change.”

When asked what she thought needed the most work within the organization, she understandably avoided answering that question, instead saying “It wouldn’t be fair to the new team to make any sweeping judgments at this time. I’m excited to bring new perspective… I don’t feel like I’m in a position to say exactly what should be changed or what shouldn’t be changed; it wouldn’t be prudent at this time. But everywhere I’ve worked has had a culture of inclusivity, of entrepreneurship thinking, of thinking big, and again, with a beginner’s mind, I want to look at the Recording Academy and hopefully bring positive change.”

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