BMI’s First African American Woman Chairperson on Changing Music Business

Susan Davenport Austin speaks on her historic role at the long-running music company

Susan Davenport Austin

Susan Davenport Austin is a woman of power. Appointed as chairwoman of the board of Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) last October, she became the first woman and first African American to lead the board that she has been a part of since 2007. In addition to her responsibilities at BMI, Austin serves as senior vice president and chief financial officer at Sheridan Broadcasting Corporation, along with being president of the Sheridan Gospel Network. Though music’s exciting digital age continues to keep her busy as it moves at a fast pace, Austin took some time to speak with BlackEnterprise.com about advising BMI, which reported more than $900 million in revenue at the end of its last fiscal year, and represents more than 500,000 creators and 7.5 million works.

Being the first African American and woman to chair BMI, do you feel you bring a different perspective to the organization?

Let me begin by saying that each chair brings his or her own unique perspective to an organization. BMI was founded on the basis of accepting all genres of American music and has a proven track record of acceptance. BMI created the first real “open door” for songwriters, composers, and music publishers when we opened our doors in 1940 to the writers of original forms of American music such as jazz, R&B, blues, and country. So it is no surprise that our board and management are committed to fostering a diverse workplace. I expect to bring a different perspective and I believe that my fellow board members chose me as chair because of the perspective I have already brought as a board member. I am sure my own background and experiences, including my financial and strategic-planning expertise, will inform my tenure as chairman.

How would you explain what you do in your role as chair of BMI?

As chairman, I lead the BMI Board of Directors in overseeing the broad business activities of the company, lending our expertise to and supporting BMI’s management team as needed and working with management to develop and implement our vision for the future… As chairman of the board I hope to make a contribution to music and to the entertainment industry at large.

What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure?

Generally, the chairman of the BMI board is expected to serve for three years. [During that time] I look forward to helping the BMI management team in the ongoing process of implementing our strategic plan; to meeting the needs of our customers, whether they are songwriters, music publishers or licensees; and to fostering the value of creativity around the world for our songwriters, composers, and publishers whose creative works make up the BMI repertoire.

How have you been finding balance between your responsibilities with BMI, as well as your duties at Sheridan Broadcasting Group and Sheridan Gospel Network?

We have a great team on the BMI board and in BMI management. I am fortunate to have the support of this experienced and uniquely capable board of directors, each of who contributes to our guidance of the company. I am also fortunate to have a great team at Sheridan, who are able to keep our business moving forward even when I have to break away to attend to BMI business.

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