CEO, Sony BMG Music Entertainment
When Lack took over Sony Music in 2003 he was a TV guy with no music experience, presumably picked because he'd be unsentimental about massive cuts. But he's quietly won enough industry respect that when he was elevated to run the Sony/BMG fiefdom this summer, complaints were few. Lack's combined operation instantly supplanted Universal as market-share leader, and owns 10 of the year's 20 best-sellers so far, from Usher to Gretchen Wilson.
Chairman, Interscope Geffen A&M;
Interscope seems likely to own the fall in three genres hip-hop (Eminem), rock (U2), and dance-pop (Gwen Stefani) on top of the inexplicably triple-platinum Ashlee Simpson. Meanwhile, it belatedly turns out, Iovine did pick up the movie bug from producing 8 Mile in 2002. The label honcho just signed a multipicture pact with Paramount and MTV Films designed to bring more Interscope artists to the big screen. Their next would-be screen gem: 50 Cent.
Potential storm clouds haven't been limited to his pancreatic cancer, which he says is treatable. The Beatles are suing over the name Apple being used for music, and Net-tune competitors pop up hourly, MSN Music being the latest. But with iTunes' Windows rollout going smashingly, Apple has 70 percent of the U.S. download biz and 4 million songs sold worldwide a week. Even if some of that plurality inevitably gets siphoned off, no one's likely to invent a product with more kid cred than the iPod in Bill Gates' lifetime, or Paul McCartney's, or yours.
CEO, Sanctuary Group
Age 41 Sanctuary isn't just for dinosaur rockers anymore. Lately the label's been collecting cooler major-label castoffs, from Morrissey to De La Soul, and just agreed to distribute a stegosaurus-free indie, Drive Thru Records. The management roster is even wider ranging, especially since picking up Beyoncé's dad; clients include Destiny's Child and Nelly. Reports that Madonna might sign on proved premature, but her manager is in talks to join the company.
Chairman-CEO, Virgin Records America
Given the shaky state of the biz, you may be wondering why we only have a downbeat report on one music suit. That's easy: In the current suffer-no-fools climate, practically everyone else who was floundering already got shown the door. Some wonder if EMI will lead Serletic a controversial 2002 hire previously best known as matchbox twenty's producer toward the same open elevator shaft. But with a roster as star-crossed as Virgin's (Janet Jackson . . . ouch! Courtney Love . . . oof! Lenny Kravitz . . . eee-aah!), there probably aren't many A-listers lining up to replace him.
Age 46 First, he revived daughter Jessica's stalled career by signing off on MTV's invasive Newlyweds. Then he not only saved Ashlee from being known as ''the less talented one'' but actually helped give her what could be an even bigger career by sexing and punking her up, and positioning her as . . . the anti-Jessica. The big question: Can he work the same magic with anyone outside his immediate family?