Born Thomas David Mottola, Jr. on July 14, 1949, in New York, NY; son of Thomas Mottola Sr. (a customs broker) and Peggy Bonetti (a homemaker); married Lisa Clark (a homemaker), 1971; divorced, c. 1990; married Mariah Carey (a singer), June 1993; divorced, 1998; married Thalia (an actress/singer), December 2000; children: (with Clark) Michael, Sarah. Education: Attended Hofstra (University of Long Island), c. 1968; studied acting under Wynn Handman. Addresses: Business--Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211.

Tommy Mottola is the president and chief executive officer at Sony Music Entertainment (SME), one of the dominant organizations in the music industry. Since his earliest years, music has played a notable part of the New York City native's life, moving from consumer and performer to manager and leading industry executive. Educated in the music industry and business through practical experience, Mottola's charisma and business savvy have made his desires and opinions remarkably influential on the careers of numerous individuals in the world of music. The hands-on executive has made headlines not just for the musical artists and business success he has helped build, but also for being the former husband (and manager) of pop superstar Mariah Carey, as well as the subject of underworld speculation. Whatever has taken place in his business practices and personal life, Mottola is, judged Timothy White in Billboard, "one of the most accomplished figures in the modern history of the music industry."

Born Thomas David Mottola, Jr. on July 14, 1949, Mottola was the youngest (by more than 12 years) of four children in a Catholic, Italian-American family living in the Bronx. His father was a custom's broker who worked in downtown New York City, while his mother, Peggy, was a homemaker whose urges frequently moved the family to different homes around New York City, as well as to Miami. According to Mottola in his interview with White, music accompanied all parts of his young life. Latin sounds, doo-wop, and R&B oozed out of the city streets he walked; and the vibrations of family members covering "old-fashioned" songs with their guitars, piano, and various instruments filled every family gathering. His earliest musical preference was for R&B, in particular James Brown and Elvis Presley.

Mottola received structured musical lessons at the schools he attended, which was first New York City's Public School 97, then, for grades 1 and 2, the Sacred Heart School in the Bronx, followed by Iona Grammar School and Iona Prep School. Through grade school and junior high Mottola played the trumpet for the school's bands, including the marching band and the orchestra. His skills at trumpeting earned him a scholarship to Iona from the fourth through the eighth grade. However, in eighth grade he stopped playing the trumpet because it "was not a cool instrument," Mottola reflected to White. Instead, the adolescent musician focused his attention on the guitar.

Started as Musician

The guitar was Mottola's path to becoming a musician. As a young teenager, he played guitar in a band called the Exotics--an R&B cover band that played beach clubs and churches, entertaining people at dances, bar mitzvahs, and weddings. Mottola's parents were against the path guitar playing was taking their 14-year-old son. They forbid their youngest child to play the guitar and at one point sent the tenth-grader to a New Jersey military school, Admiral Farragut Academy. After six months and three episodes of running away, Mottola eventually ended up back at home, finishing his secondary education at Iona. In high school Mottola returned to guitar playing, started playing drums and singing, and began acting.

While obliging his parents's request for him to attend college, he fed his musical and theatrical interests, and dated his future wife--Lisa Clark, the daughter of the ABC Records founder, Sam Clark. During his short time at Hofstra he took an acting class, played the upright bass in the university's band, and maintained other activities, such as studying acting in New York City under Wynn Handman. As he told White, "I was at Hofstra for six months and found the process not satisfying. I convinced my parents they could not hold me back any more, saying, 'Look, I've tried everything else. I want to be a singer, a musician, and an actor. If you love me, you'll support me.' I was about 18. So I picked up gigs playing WMCA record hops."

In the following months Mottola pursued all three of his interests. As a musician he landed various jobs, including filling in for bands who visited radio stations. Around that time he also worked as an actor, being an extra or having very small parts in about eight films. His greatest desire, however, was to become a singer. In time, the aspiring vocalist landed a contract with CBS Records, leading him further into the music world and into the performance side of the record industry. Under CBS's Epic label, Mottola released two 45 records: "Woman Without Love" and "Evil Woman." The records were pop songs that respected his interest in R&B. He recorded under the name T. D. Valentine--a combination of his initials and the specific day he first recorded, Valentine's Day--in order to avoid confusion with his second cousin, established musician Tony Mottola.

New Direction in the Music Industry

While promoting his records, Mottola began thinking about taking a different direction in the music industry. He related to White, "The obsession with singing started to wear off, but I was still learning the industry, including the business of the songs. In other words, I started to get interested in music publishing." When he was about 20, Mottola took a job with Chappell Music, a music publisher. Working in the company's pop music division, Mottola became affiliated with artists such as Jim Steinman and Rod Stewart. In 1971, about two years after Mottola started at Chappell, he wed Clark, converting to her religion, Judaism, prior to the ceremony. During the years that followed, life advanced for the couple; they had two children, moved to a nicer house, and watched Mottola's career develop.

After a handful of years in the publishing arena of the music industry, Mottola moved into the role of manager. He left Chappell and formed his own management firm, first called Don Tommy Enterprises, then later known as Champion Entertainment. His first clients were those he initially interacted with while at Chappell; among them, the then-unknown Daryl Hall and John Oates, with whom he maintained a long and involved business relationship. Under Mottola's management the duo gained great popular success as "Hall & Oates;" however, they also went into debt while Mottola profited. Mottola and his management company worked for other notable clients, such as John Mellencamp and Carly Simon, before Mottola became a record company executive.

Made President of CBS Records

In 1988, after being courted by the head of CBS Records, Walter Yetnikoff, Mottola accepted a position as president of CBS Records and its domestic Sony Music subsidiary. According to Vanity Fair contributor Robert Sam Anson, it was Mottola's "street experience" and "proximity" to the-powers-that-be that got him the job. However, reported Anson, the choice to give Mottola the position "boggled the industry." Around the time Mottola assumed control of CBS Records, it was bought by the Japanese-owned Sony Music Entertainment; thus, Mottola became president of the United States division of Sony Music.

Once in his presidential position, Mottola determined that his organization had two major problems: 1) it lacked development of new artists, remaining anchored by great talent that was, nevertheless, past its prime; and 2) its domestic and international arms were not operating as a coherent unit. So, despite coming off of a recent record low financial year, Mottola approached his Japanese bosses, asking to make large and expensive changes. Reorganization and the generation of new talent were the answers Mottola implemented to stimulate the falling success of Sony's music company.

As president of Sony Music's United States division, Mottola brought a number of new people into high level positions, focused on expanding two of the company's record labels, Columbia and Epic, and devoted resources to new talent. In discussing the changes he made to the company, Mottola told White, "So that took us into the '90s, where we began to develop a lot of new bands, broke a lot of big pop acts like New Kids on the Block and Harry Connick Jr. I signed Mariah [Carey] in '88. We released her album a year and a half later, and it became the biggest phenomenon in the world."

"The performances of most of Tommy's other acts, however, were not cause for celebration," contended Anson, stating: "Tommy crowed about bright spots, such as the breaking of Michael Bolton and New Kids on the Block (both of who were signed by [SME's Al] Teller). He claimed that since he had come aboard the company's profits had tripled (an assertion The New York Times found inflated five fold). But as 1992 began, Mottola's bottom line was decidedly lackluster." Nevertheless, other industry analysts, as well as Mottola himself, recognized the record executive's decisions regarding new talent as a cornerstone in the company's success.

More Control as President and COO

In 1993, Mottola gained more control of the company's business, serving as both president and chief operating officer of Sony Music Entertainment worldwide. "In the industry, the promotion [to chief] was a symbolic gesture rewarding the executive for a job well done," reported Valerie Block, continuing in Crain's New York Business: "While insiders continue to grumble about his free-spending ways and flashy corporate style, they've had to give him credit for his willingness to take chances." While remaining committed to developing new talent, Mottola became more focused on unifying the entire international organization under his leadership.

"When I got more responsibility [as chief of Sony's worldwide music division], the first thing I did was break all the walls down, and I said that everybody in this company would work together. And that has made a huge difference in the success of a Celine or a Mariah," Mottola told White. In a June 1996 issue of Crain's New York Business, Phyllis Furman made similar observations, lauding Mottola's influence on SME: "[H]e seems to be transforming a stodgy music house into a hit-making global music empire.... Over the past several years, he has lured an aggressive management team, set up beachheads in foreign markets and latched on to some of the industry's hottest stars, namely [Mariah] Carey and Canadian songstress Celine Dion. Now he is enjoying the payoff."

Not only did Carey play a large part in the growth of the company under Mottola's management, she also became a pivotal part of the record executive's personal life. Though there are disputes about how the business relationship was initiated, in 1988 Mottola became completely immersed in Carey's professional life--presiding over her record label, acting as her manager, and assigning his business affiliations to administer various functions of her professional life. He also entered her personal life. Some reports romantically linked Mottola and Carey soon after their professional relationship began, before Mottola had divorced his first wife. Mottola's first marriage did not end until around the time that Carey's first album peaked in popularity.

Married Mariah Carey

In 1993, Carey and Mottola wed in an extremely elaborate fairytale ceremony. Their wedding, Bedford mansion, relationship, and reciprocal influence on each other's career became topics of public conversation. Anson commented, "Depending on which enemy is doing the alleging, she owes her career to him, he owes his job to her, and the arrangements that has brought riches to both may not last forever." In fact, after five years of marriage, following a ten-month separation, Carey and Mottola divorced in 1998. Both parties cited their 20-year age difference as a reason for the divorce. "Allies of both agree on a few things: that Mottola didn't want the marriage to end; Carey was too young when she married; she felt indebted to him; and she tried to make the marriage work," reported Entertainment Weekly contributor Degen Pener noting, that "the split ... sparked angry accusations of infidelity, abusive behavior, and artistic suppression." Various accounts indicate that during their relationship Mottola had a controlling and possessive approach to Carey's personal and professional life.

After their divorce, Carey remained under contract with Mottola's company; however, the singer chose to part with many of the professional influences tied to her ex-husband. She released some of the key people with whom Mottola professionally surrounded her. She also altered the style of her next album, Butterfly, toward the rap genre, a style she had been discouraged from pursuing. There was speculation that the video for one of the album's song, "Honey," was a reflection of her experience with Mottola and his questioned connection to the mob. However, as Pener quoted Carey, the singer publicly announced, "[The 'Honey' video is] not intended to be a dis to Tommy.... All this speculation is really kind of crazy--the media hyping it and feeding it."

The video, which Mottola publicly supported, paralleled much of what was presented in Anson's November of 1996 Vanity Fair article, which characterized Mottola as having shady business practices and associations. Of Mottola's business behavior, Anson stated, "That at the very least, Tommy played the thug role well is widely remembered." Anson raised questions about the business associates of Mottola's father, his first wife's father, and other people. The Vanity Fair portrait was colored with information such as "Tommy was showed up in a 1986 NBC report on Mob infiltration of the music industry ... [and] invested in a racehorse syndicate operated by the ubiquitous Morris Levy, who was about to get slapped with a dime term on a federal extortion rap" and quotes like: "'There was always a sort of shadow about [Tommy],' says a key aide to former CBS chairman Laurence Tisch, 'a consideration that he was not above board.' No one at CBS produced any evidence to back up the suspicions." Anson also did not present any "hard" evidence for his shady characterization of Mottola; and, in his interview with Mottola, the record executive denied any unflattering rumors Anson brought forth.

Personal and Professional Growth

Regardless of the speculations of questionable business interactions, Mottola's professional and personal life is still moving forward. He became chairman and chief executive officer of Sony Music Entertainment in 1998, and on December 2, 2000, he married Thalia, an actress/singer from Mexico. With his third bride at his side, Mottola continues as president and chief executive officer of Sony's music corporation. In 2001, Mottola told White that he remained committed to keeping SME invigorated with new talent; feeding off of the pop-driven music market--where songs rule over particular bands, artists, or albums as a "whole" unit; and adapting to digital media--adjusting SME's structure and strategies to "harness the digital media and figure out how we're going to get the artists paid, ourselves paid, and how we can use it as a platform to broaden our business." Mottola has experience successfully restructuring and refocusing SME. "The company's revenue tripled during [Mottola's] first 10 years," reported White, who noted, "Mottola believes his past has prepared him to ride out the rough patches ahead and to locate the music that will serve as a worthy artistic and consumer-pleasing destination."

by Shanna Weagle

Tommy Mottola's Career

Worked in customs broker industry with father during summer before college; actor/extra in about eight films, including No Way to Treat a Lady, 1968, and What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, 1968; singer, as T. D. Valentine, under contract with CBS Records, c. 1969; records released under the CBS label Epic included "Woman Without Love" and "Evil Woman"; worked in pop music division at music publisher Chappell Music, c. 1969-74; founder, Champion Entertainment (formerly called Don Tommy Enterprises; a music management company), 1974-88 (incorporated in 1975); president, CBS Records/Sony Music (U.S.), 1988-93; president and chief operating officer, Sony Music Entertainment Inc. (SME), 1993-98; chairman and chief executive officer, 1998-; has also worked as a movie producer; acted as consultant to CBS for 15 years.

Recent Updates

July 2003: It is reported that Motolla has signed an estimated $10 to $15 million contract with Universal Music group to relaunch Casablanca Records. Source: Entertainment Weekly, July 25, 2003.

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 16 years ago

Add that he has a 3rd kid, daughter Sabrina Sakae with 3d\current wife Thalia.

almost 17 years ago

I am trying to locate an interview in which Cyndi Lauper talked about her showdown with Tommy Mottola. Can you be of help??