This Kenan-Flagler EMBA Is Co-Author Of The ‘Song Of The Decade’

‘Even though I had been in the workforce for a long time, I had not been in that kind of structured school environment since 1998 when I graduated high school. That was a bit unnerving,’ Austin says. Courtesy photo

Tell us about your company, Austin Entertainment Enterprises.

It’s a production company, we write and produce songs for artists on labels and there’s a publishing side to it. I have a couple of writers and producers that are signed to the company and working to get them placements on artists as well. Really it’s a one stop shop for artists, for record labels to bring their artists to, to facilitate the creative process and record albums and singles. When we first started, it was more of an album model, and now it’s more of a single model coupled with some other offerings, whether it be a product launch, visual short form content, TV, or whatever.

Are you working with any artists currently that you are particularly excited about?

I’m super excited about the Usher project. I think it’s going to be really good, I’m excited about what we’ve done there. We had a No. 1 record last year with an artist, Ari Lennox. So, I guess I’ve had a No. 1 record in the 90s, the 2000s, 2010s and now the 2020s; so four different decades.

That’s great.

But Usher is our primary focus. I’ve worked in television before as the supervising music producer for the television show “Star” on Fox, and this coming January I’ll be working with Lee Daniels again on his biopic for Sammy Davis Jr. to be on Hulu. So, those are the immediate projects.

When did you start thinking about going back to school and getting some business training?

To describe it, I’m gonna use something that I’ve learned in business school. There are changes in business, disruptions that go on in any market, and then there’s a transition. You have to adapt or perish. So, at the time, I didn’t know that I was working to make sure that I didn’t become Sears. But, I saw the landscape changing where a business that had relied almost exclusively on creative content, was beginning to rely more on data and market share to couple with that creative content. I wanted to just increase my acumen on how to gather, interpret and use data and market share in the industry. I wanted to be able to understand the landscape and how to better use my creative input as the business transitioned.

Were you nervous about not having the college experience?

Yes, I was. Even though I had been in the workforce for a long time, I had not been in that kind of structured school environment since 1998 when I graduated high school. That was a bit unnerving. But I actually have two teenage boys, so I kept up with my math in certain areas just by helping them. I think having kids helped me stay close to what a structured school environment was like,

Did you consider other schools besides Kenan-Flagler?

Absolutely. I spoke with Northwestern and the gentleman there was very receptive and worked to get me a waiver. I spoke with NYU Stern as well as Vanderbilt.

What made you choose Kenan-Flagler?

I think the proximity to where I live in Atlanta, and then Kenan was just very receptive. The administration really went from considering my application to what I felt like was actively recruiting and encouraging me to come to the school.

What are some takeaways that you feel will be immediately applicable to your business?

A lot of the strategy courses: identifying when it’s time to change and ways to make yourself agile and lean. My business was something that I always approached from a creative process. I’m always looking on how I can improve creatively. Even if it’s one song, we’ll listen to it 100 times and ask, “Is this the very best we can do?” I think as a business leader, that’s one thing that the professors at Kenan-Flagler really imparted to me: Always looking to be able to know when to pivot, to be aware of when you can make your product better, how you can improve as a leader, how you can improve as an entrepreneur. I think that that’s the biggest lesson that stands out

Do you think your EMBA experience will help you pivot, if that’s something you’re looking to do?

I do, and I think it is a great word. My core competency is what I bring to the table creatively, but I want to pivot and be able to link industries and business through my creative competencies. Definitely what I learned there will help that.

I think that I’ve made a lot of relationships with my cohort that will be a great resource to utilize. The EMBA is also about the relationships that you find and nurture throughout the program, which is one thing that my wife told me: Going through graduate school, focus on the relationships because these are some of the relationships that you will take with you for the rest of your life and business career.

What advice do you have for people on the creative side, who may not have the college pedigree, but are considering an EMBA or some kind of executive education?

I think the first thing is that we never stop learning. You can always build on skills you already have or learn something entirely new. I’m like the third person I know who went through this process. They were great entrepreneurs in their own rights, and they went through the Harvard Business School program, and had nothing but great things to say.

Always look to learn, that’s what I would say to any creative person. It’s worth it. You will learn a lot, you will be better for it.

What is next for you?

I’m looking to really find a way to synergize music and content with tech, whether it be with Amazon, Netflix, Apple Music or whatever. They have disrupted the creative space as far as record labels, now it’s time to synergize where artists and creatives can build a larger brand using these platforms. For instance, an artist like Usher, if he’s able to build visual and audio products in all of these different spaces with all of these different verticals, it could really be a new model of how we bring content to the marketplace.


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