Barney Wragg, a veteran music-industry executive appointed in 2011 with considerable fanfare to the newly created position of managing director of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, will leave RUG in June, about half a year before the end of his five-year contract. Both sides describe the parting as amicable.
“When I joined Really Useful, I always talked with Andrew about it being for four-to-five years,” Wragg told Deadline in a telephone interview Friday from London. “My brief was to transform the business, oversee the restructuring of Really Useful into two entities in order to support Andrew in what he wanted to do creatively for the rest of his career. It’s been a great five years, but for me it’s time to spread my wings.”
In Really Useful’s announcement of Wragg’s departure, Lloyd Webber said that he had been brought on board to “rationalize and refocus the company into a streamlined licensing organization and to scale down RUG’s production activities.
“The proposed new shape of the company resulted from a strategic decision taken by the family necessitated by my personal health issues,” Lloyd Webber added. “However, five years on, my health has taken a huge turn for the better and RUG is rapidly moving forward into a completely different phase that neither Barney nor I could possibly have anticipated when he joined us. Barney has completed the task of reorganizing RUG magnificently and provided a solid and profitable platform for us to go forward.”
Lloyd Webber has returned to active composing and producing. His adaptation with Julian Fellowes and Glenn Slater of School of Rock opened on Broadway this season to critical acclaim and excellent business at the Shubert Organization’s Winter Garden Theatre, and a major revival of Cats is in the offing. Under Wragg, RUG was split in two, one part concerned with Lloyd Webber’s real estate interests, in particular as a major London theater owner, the other to control the licensing of Lloyd Webber’s catalogue of shows — including The Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar and new productions moving forward — and shoring up the ALW brand across music, film, television, publishing, theater, merchandise and digital services.
At the time of his hiring, Wragg had been a key player at Universal Music Group and EMI from the beginning of the industry’s move from analog into digital distribution. Wragg was senior VP of digital at Universal Music Group from 2001 until 2006, when he joined EMI as head of its global digital business. He left EMI in 2007. At RUG, Wragg was a major supporter of using new media and technology to promote School of Rock — especially a 360-degree video of a number from the musical created by UK companies Steam Motion and Sound UK.
“What I’m really proud of is creating the engine for moving forward,” Wragg told Deadline. “When you look at a five-year plan, things evolve and the key is remaining flexible and being able to adapt as things progressed. We’ve put in a completely new team since I arrived, including in creative and licensing. I’m proud of being able to completely support Andrew.”
Wragg was in the news briefly two years ago, when RUG sued producer Michael Cohl (Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark) after a U.S. tour of Jesus Christ Superstar was canceled at the last minute. “The Really Useful Group is hugely disappointed to be let down in this way particularly taking into account the impact (both personal and financial) that it has had on the many people who have put so much hard work into this project,” Wragg said in July 2014, as the company demanded repayment of its costs in developing the tour.
Asked why, given the successful restructuring of RUG and the creative re-invigoration of its leader, he would want to leave, Wragg said that challenge having been met, he had, as Joni Mitchell once sang, the urge for going.
“I enjoy the turnaround, the flux and dynamic of change,” Wragg said. “That’s the most exciting part, it always was, for me.” Wragg told Deadline that he has not yet dwelt on his next move but noted that “the changing digital environment, those are the areas where I really enjoy working.
“There’s a long road to go as we understand what technology can do, as we’ve gone from one business model from the 1940s and ’50s to digital,” he added. “As long as there exists that human desire to have music and further changes in the way people consume entertainment, there will be challenges for the business model.”