Steve Bartels was the driving force behind some of the most successful records of the last three decades before stepping down as Chief Executive Officer of Island Def Jam Music Group in January 2018. Before that, he had served as Island Def Jam’s president and chief operating officer. Spanning a career of over thirty years in the entertainment industry, he has worked to develop and promote such diverse talent as Mariah Carey, Outkast, Janet Jackson, Notorious B.I.G., Amy Grant, Jennifer Lopez, The Killers, Pink, Sting, Avril Lavinge, Jay Z, Whitney Houston, Sean Puffy Combs, Bon Jovi, NAS, Justin Bieber, Annie Lennox, Santana, Usher, Barry Manilow, Young Jeezy, Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Lionel Richie and Kanye West. From his start as a nightclub dj through his rise in the music industry, his passion for music has remained his inspiration. He has worked alongside industry veterans Herb Albert, Jerry Moss, Clive Davis, LA Reid and Barry Weiss through his tenure at A&M Records, Arista Records, and the Island Def Jam Music Group.
Steve Bartels is the recipient of a 2010 MTV VMA Award and the 2008 MTV Teen Choice “Choice Music Man”. As a former Recording Industry of America Association (RIAA) Board Member, he remains active advocating free speech and anti-piracy legislation on Capital Hill. He also sits on the Board of City of Hope Cancer Research Center annually hosting their most successful East Coast fundraiser. Bartels is a graduate of Hofstra University and the University of California Los Angeles.
Steve Bartels, ‘85, B.B.A Marketing
Former Chief Executive Officer of The Island Def Jam Music Group
Why did you choose Hofstra?
I liked the proximity of Hofstra being so close to a major city of the world, which is New York City. I grew up in upstate New York, and I felt the program Hofstra was offering allowed me to get away and be in a growing and burgeoning area that was creative. It offered me the diversity of being in a suburban setting, while also taking advantage of NYC.
What are your top three memories of Hofstra?
- I got a chance to meet a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds
- I loved the entertainment they had on campus. Hofstra Concerts brought in some really big players. We got to see some big acts – Jefferson Airplane, The Clash, Yorma Kaukonen.
- We had great intramural sports – they were at a really high level. I played basketball in high school, but I had a knee injury. I tried to get on the (Division 1) team as a walk-on, but when that didn’t work out I got very aggressive about intramurals, and we had a team that actually won the year I was on. I still stay in touch with some of my friends from that time.
"I felt the program Hofstra was offering allowed me to get away and be in a growing and burgeoning area that was creative."
How would you describe your leadership style, and what do you think makes a good leader?
I look at my leadership style as consensus-building. I feel you have a staff for a reason, and that getting the best they have to offer is a big part of being a good leader, a good boss and a good manager. A good leader is someone who can make decisions after listening to all the formulations of how something can be done, or be solved. And then ultimately, they can stand behind that decision whether they are right or wrong. You have to be decisive and take a risk. You’re not always going to be right and you have to show people that you’re not always right.
How did Hofstra shape your leadership style?
I felt that Hofstra really prepared me to talk to and be with anybody. The incredible diversity at the school helped prepare me for the role I’m in now. I was always the mayor of whatever I did. If somebody asked me what my dream would be, it wouldn’t be to have a million dollars. I would want to be able to speak 20 languages fluently because I feel communication is everything.
Relationships are the most important thing you can have - with your professors, your friends and classmates. And Hofstra really prepared me well in terms of dealing with people, which is the single most important part of my job. You can deal with country, rock, hip hop and classical artists and it’s about finding a way to communicate and to build that relationship. I learned a lot at Hofstra in terms of dealing with people; and that helped me later on with managing people and helping them get to the place they want to get to. Going to Hofstra turned out to be a great choice for me.
What advice would you offer for current Zarb students?
You should dare to dream and to follow your dreams. That might sound cliché, but life is all about trying to get to what you want to accomplish. Humility and having an approach with people are the most important things. You’re always preparing yourself to go somewhere. You have to immerse yourself where you are. I want to live in the moment. My friends say ‘oh my god – you hang out with this person or that person’. But if I once think that – it’s over.
Compare Hofstra today, with the Hofstra you attended.
I’m impressed how the school has grown and taken itself seriously. They haven’t rested on their laurels, they are staying contemporary and modern and relevant. My nephew is a sophomore at Zarb now and I feel like the school has gotten much bigger and even more diverse than when I was there. My nephew – he was in a dorm with someone from the Philippines, someone from Malaysia and someone from New Jersey. That kind of experience is everything.
I really remain committed to Hofstra – I try to give people the benefit of my perspective and be a proud alum. Whenever I’m asked to go back and speak, I do. And when I look for interns, I’m very concerned about getting Hofstra interns here.