Two top executives at Sony Music Entertainment were made aware of Sony Australia CEO Denis Handlin’s abusive behavior for over 20 years before his firing, according to a new report revealed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Widely regarded as one of the most powerful music executives in Australia, Denis Handlin was accused for decades of workplace harassment, sexual misconduct, discrimination, and abuse. Sony fired him this past June, but a documentary by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation alleges that Sony knew of his behavior for a long time.
According to office horror stories, seven cases prior to 2013 reported that women were let go and given cash settlements after they became pregnant, and another woman was fired after she refused to flash her breasts at a company Cheap Trick concert.
In other disturbing revelations, Rolling Stone reported, an unearthed video showed Handlin rapping about the company while dressed as Hitler, and he was reported as unable to “treat women as equals” on multiple, ignored occasions.
Greg Lockhart, Sony Australia’s head of human resources at the time, said that he reported Denis Handlin’s behavior for years throughout the 1990s, but the company never acted until 1998, when he was suspended for only three months. According to Lockhart, his behavior went on unchecked for another 23 years.
He detailed how he was forced to “sack” employees for “not smiling at him,” “not liking the physical look of someone,” or rejecting his sexual advances.
“Working for Denis in effect means you do not work for Sony Music,” Lockhart stated. “You are not a director or manager: you are a servant ‘rewarded’ so long as you serve his, and only his purpose. Life revolves totally around Denis and the ‘cult’ of his personality.”
In an official statement, Sony Music Entertainment said, “We take all allegations of bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behavior from our employees very seriously and investigate them vigorously.”
The massive music company alleged that “only recently did claims surface,” and that they “are not in a position to comment further on allegations concerning matters which occurred over 20 years ago.”
Sony claimed that “the persons involved at that time are no longer at the company,” and rendered the investigation complete. “To the extent these matters have been raised, Sony Music has been reviewing them,” a representative from the company said.
“The thing that has upset most of us,” said Sony Music Australia’s former finance director, Alan Terrey, “was that [Sony] said, ‘Oh, we just found out about this problem.'”
Terrey, who was Denis Handlin’s second-in-command for years, called Sony’s statement “a load of hogwash.”
“His day-to-day dealings with people were pretty much at the executive level so they’re the people who really copped the abuse and the toxic behavior,” he said. “Occasionally, he would bring some lower minion into a board meeting and absolutely destroy them in front of his superior. But it was meted out to everybody, nobody escaped.”
Starting out in distribution at the Australian Record Company in May 1970, Denis Handlin was promoted to Chief Executive Officer of the company in 1984. 12 years later, in 1996, he was made Chairman of Sony Music Australia following the acquisition.
On Tuesday, Denis Handlin was stripped of an honorary award once presented to him at the 2020 Queensland Music Awards in Brisbane, Australia.
“The culture under Denis Handlin’s leadership at Sony came at significant human cost,” Queensland Music event organizer Kris Stewart said. “Toxic workplaces, be they in the office, boardroom, on stage or behind, have no future in Australian music.”
“We cannot, and should not accept nor celebrate this kind of culture, he said. “The future of music must be one that is safe, supportive, and equitable for all.”