The Queen of Pop has reshuffled her management team, created a record label, signed new acts and invested in new companies
By Neil Shah
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is entering a new phase of her career: impresario. After two decades of singing chart-topping anthems like “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” acting in movies and putting her image on Pepsi cans and L’Oréal hair products, the face of America’s female-power zeitgeist is turning more energy toward not being in the spotlight—investing in young firms, guiding new acts, producing and directing videos.
Having recently turned 35 years old, Beyoncé is morphing into an investor: She’s taken stakes in start-ups that share her interest in women’s health, from 22 Days Nutrition, a vegan diet company, to WTRMLN WTR, a sports beverage she drinks while prepping for her physically demanding stage show.
Helping her build an entertainment empire is a reshuffled management team, led by former J.P. Morgan Chase executive Steve Pamon. “She’s broadening her reach,” says Mathew Knowles, her father, and early manager, of Beyoncé’s staff overhaul. “She’s paying more attention to ownership—as an entrepreneur.”
“Once you feel like you’ve grown into your own, it feels good to groom other people, to launch them,” says Danielle Korn, executive vice-president at advertising agency McCann Erickson, who’s worked with Beyoncé since her teens.
A Michael Jackson for the Millennial age, Beyoncé is bringing R&am...st century by weaving in pop, hip-hop, electronic music and—on a new song “Daddy Lessons”—even country. Millions of zealous fans, known collectively as the “!!!!!!!,” obsess over her every move and defend their “Queen of Pop” from critics. The vocal prodigy and her husband, rap mogul Jay-Z, hobnob on the highest level, counting first couple Barack and Michelle Obama as friends.
Late last year she hired a new team of top executives, poaching talent from the finance, tech, and entertainment industries. Mr. Pamon, who headed J.P. Morgan’s sports and entertainment marketing division, now runs Beyoncé’s company Parkwood Entertainment day-to-day and is her chief negotiator for all business matters. Peter Thea, a music-business veteran, joined from Warner Bros. Records, to manage artists. Parkwood created new departments, including an in-house record label, and added staffers.
Earlier this year, Beyoncé unveiled Ivy Park, an “athleisure” clothing line, with British retail ty!!!! Philip Green. Launched with an inspirational, narrated video about the virtues of self-discipline, the label sells running shorts, tank tops, and hoodies for $35 to $60, along with higher-priced jackets and backpacks. Beyoncé invested in Tidal, Jay Z’s artist-owned music-streaming service. And this spring, she announced the partnership with WTRMLN WTR, a bottled watermelon juice made from bruised or misshapen watermelons. (The drink echoes Beyoncé’s motif on her recent million-selling album, “Lemonade”: Making lemonade from life’s lemons.)
Instead of simply endorsing the drink, Beyoncé invested capital. The brand was recently part of Beyoncé’s “!!!!!!! VIP” package on tour. Last month, Beyoncé promoted it on Facebook, saying the drink “keeps us happy, healthy and hydrated.” “I know for her it’s about female ownership,” says WTRMLN WTR co-founder and creative director Jody Levy.
Beyoncé’s camp declined to comment. Parkwood has a small staff and Beyoncé gives few interviews. While some Parkwood executives are new, several members have stayed on from earlier days, including artist & repertoire representative Teresa LaBarbera-Whites and Yvette Noel-Schure, Beyoncé’s publicist.
Mr. Pamon’s arrival at Parkwood came after two decades when Beyoncé’s business was handled first by her father, and then by Beyoncé herself. For the past five years, she had worked closely with Lee Anne Callahan-Longo, who was general manager. Ms. Callahan-Longo had worked with Mr. Knowles and, before that, Sony Music, the parent of Columbia Records, which signed Beyoncé’s former group, Destiny’s Child, in 1996 and released Beyoncé’s solo albums.
Parkwood’s first chief operating officer, Mr. Pamon brings a packed Rolodex and deep knowledge of finance and business development. Besides his time on Wall Street, he has worked at the National Football League, HBO and McKinsey & Co., and has an MBA from Stanford University. He has the experience to help Parkwood identify start-ups to invest in, observers say.
Mr. Pamon is a good listener, people who know him say. “He doesn’t have any of the show-business egos,” says George Hirsch, chairman of the New York Road Runners, which runs the New York City Marathon and includes Mr. Pamon on its board.
Parkwood Entertainment COO Steve Pamon, left, and Tina Knowles at the 2016 BET Awards in June in Los AngelesPHOTO: JOHNNY NUNEZ/BET/GETTY IMAGES
In 2014, he played a role in J. P. Morgan Chase’s sponsorship of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s joint “On the Run” stadium tour. Michael Yormark, president of Jay Z’s Roc Nation, called J.P. Morgan, according to a person close to the financial institution. There wasn’t much time to hammer out a deal, but J.P. Morgan came away with a marquee victory that boosted its customers’ credit-card use and other metrics it tracks. “There is a prestige behind it,” says the person close to J.P Morgan. “It was an important deal.”
Mr. Pamon and other Parkwood executives often work from the firm’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters in New York at the corner of Broadway and 39th Street. A small, intensely private firm, Parkwood has its own sign-in sheet for visitors at the front desk, apart from the building’s. “They’re very secretive, and uptight about their information,” a front-desk clerk says.
Beyoncé is making a big bet on new acts, signing artists and creating a record label and artist-management department. Last year, she hired Mr. Thea, a 30-year veteran of the music industry, to head up her label: Besides engineering albums with Aerosmith and the Grateful Dead, he’s worked as an entertainment lawyer and ran Jive Records’ A&R department, working with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
Over the past several years, Parkwood has signed teenage R&B sister duo Chloe x Halle, along with Houston rapper Ingrid and singer Sophie Beem. Beyoncé’s clout is helping expose these protégées to the big leagues: At a show in June at Citi Field in New York, footage of Parkwood’s signees appeared on large screens as fans waited for Beyoncé to hit the stage. Chloe x Halle also appeared in Beyoncé’s high-profile “Lemonade” film.
“I think about Madonna and how she took all of the great things she achieved and started the label and developed other artists,” Beyoncé said in a 2013 interview with U.K. magazine The Gentlewoman. “There are not enough of those women.”
Of course, the most powerful part of Parkwood remains Beyoncé—its CEO. The Houston-born singer’s business savvy goes back to the late 1990s, when she was managed by her father, who taught her the music business.
“It didn’t just happen overnight,” says Mr. Knowles. From her teens, Beyoncé saw profit-and-loss statements, marketing plans. “A lot of artists, they start companies, but they don’t have a clue what happens inside of them. They pretend,” he says. “She’s not pretending. She’s actually making these decisions, coming up with these ideas.”
Managed by her father since she was a teenager, Beyoncé struck out on her own in 2010. Associates say there was a period of tension between the two—Mr. Knowles and Beyoncé’s mother Tina divorced in late 2011—but father and daughter are on good terms, according to Mr. Knowles. Today Mr. Knowles isn’t directly involved in her business but remains part of her circle, appearing recently in the “Lemonade” film.
Beyoncé came into her own as an artist and businesswoman around 2013, observers say. She became much more selective about endorsements, dropping her work with L’Oréal, for example. She stopped talking to the press and took a hands-on role in all her activities—even inspecting the composition of advertisement photos.
When it came to “Beyoncé,” the stud... of 2013, Beyoncé insisted on not releasing a single—an unconventional strategy—and making a video for every song. It was time-consuming; the year was running out. Parkwood and Columbia settled on a surprise-release strategy. “Quite frankly, we didn’t really have time to build a traditional plan anyway,” says Columbia Records chairman Rob Stringer, according to a 2014 study by Harvard Business School. Columbia Records referred all requests for comment to Beyoncé’s publicist.
“Lemonade”—released last April and widely thought to be about Jay Z’s infidelity—has taken Beyoncé from pop star to pop-culture icon. Her “Formation World Tour,” her first global solo stadium trek, is competing with Bruce Springsteen for the crown of 2016’s highest-grossing international tour, with expected ticket sales of around $260 million, according to trade publication Pollstar. Forbes this July estimated Beyoncé earned $54 million over the prior year—edging out Jay Z’s $53.5 million in income.
Given her enormous clout in the entertainment industry, one question is whether Beyoncé will sever ties with music executives and go fully independent.
Her albums are part of a partnership with Columbia Records, but “Lemonade” is the venture’s final record, according to music executives. Columbia and its parent Sony are useful for practical reasons, such as world-wide distribution of physical albums, but Beyoncé could easily find financing elsewhere, these people say.
It’s not easy juggling so many roles—artist, CEO, label chief, film director, entrepreneur, political activist.
Rap moguls Puff Daddy and Jay-Z built successful labels, but plenty of stars have failed. And there are only so many hours in the day: Beyoncé and Jay Z have a 4-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy.
Yet Beyoncé probably already has her post-“Lemonade” strategy planned out, her father says. “Year one, year two, year three, year four, year five. I think she’s thought that far out,” he says.
Some see Beyoncé focusing more on film—as a director, producer, actress.
Both “Lemonade” and “Beyoncé” were so-called “visual albums,” recordings paired with ambitious video projects. The strategy smartly nods to the fact that, increasingly, young music fans aren’t just listening to music, they’re watching it too, music executives say.
The artful, hour-long “Lemonade” film premiered on HBO and was snubbed at last Sunday’s Emmy Awards, sparking an outcry among “!!!!!!!” fans. But the film, co-directed by Beyoncé, succeeded in showing off Parkwood’s production capabilities. “We didn’t have any creative input,” a spokesperson for HBO says.
Beyoncé’s long-form video projects may be just the beginning. People in time will realize that Beyoncé “taught us to see music,” Mr. Knowles says.