In this episode of the Recording Academy x EBONY “Black Music Collective Podcast, music industry change agent Jeff Harleston speaks to the power of agility and flexibility. As the General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for Universal Music Group, Harleston has worked to cultivate and expand initiatives in support of marginalized communities. Here’s what we learned from his podcast session:
Never Be Afraid to Pivot
When Harleston envisioned his career in law, he always imagined himself in a courtroom. He had aspirations of moving from federal prosecutor to judge. However, that all changed one day when he received an opportunity from a law school classmate to work at MCA Records. “Me? Come on, I’m a prosecutor. Maybe, I’ll be a judge one day,” Harleston recalled thinking to himself. Still, he sent his resume, and his willingness to be flexible rewarded him by taking him down a path that he’d never imagined for himself. This same ability to pivot would also serve him when the music industry shifted dramatically as a result of Napster and other music-sharing platforms.
There Are Many Avenues to Facilitate Change
Harleston admits that what inspired him to pursue law was his desire to bring about change. He thought that an impactful way to do so would be by being in the courtroom. However, his professional journey quickly revealed that there is more than one road to bringing about change.
“I wanted to be involved in something that could help bring about change. I thought, ‘Okay, law does that.’ I thought that law meant being in the courtroom. Law didn’t mean a board room,” Harleston recalled.
Mentorship is Essential
Harleston admits that one of the most influential aspects of his career was mentorship. Several Black executives in the industry, such as the late Andre Harell, were adamant about reaching back and investing in those who followed in their footsteps. “That was wildly instrumental in my growth and development, as was and is for so many people in this business,” Harleston recalled.
Catch more of Harleston’s gems in the podcast below.