Photo courtesy of Marc Rogoff.
A born and bred Londoner, Alexi Cory-Smith looks to childhood to seek out her earliest inspirations. Watching Crown Court with her mother was a formative experience – the life of a barrister looked "just fantastic." Combined with an early love of theatre and performance, she sees the two as strikingly similar: "you've got to know your facts, you've got to be well-rehearsed and you get one chance at showtime."
With a very strong sense of what is right and wrong, she considers herself a challenger of authority. She attended seven different schools, citing her struggle with big institutions and rules for the sake of rules. Although her brother might joke about it ("My sister is well-educated, she's been to all the schools"), it gave her a good perspective on the UK schooling system – public and private. As a rule, however, careers advice was poor, with students channelled into certain professions. Seeking external guidance, Alexi ended up reading Law at Queen Mary College. For one of the first times, she found herself challenged by tutors and inspired by what education could unlock. She found she was more intelligent and capable than she realised – she could be successful in her own right: "I was actually afraid of myself. I hadn't appreciated my talent by this point."
However, the cost involved of pursuing law beyond the point of university represented a problem. She needed to go and earn a living. Through a chance meeting with a music label's Artist & Repertoire representative, responsible for scouting talent, she decided to pursue a job in the music business. Alexi joined an American independent label, IRS Records, a place she describes as "an extraordinary learning ground." It was the great heyday of selling records, before the digital revolution. Not always glamorous, she had to get her hands dirty and work hard. She built up a fantastic knowledge and exposure of the music business across all the sectors: records, publishing, live and management. It was here she realised she was better at the business and commercial side of music, rather than the creative side.
Encouraged by a mentor, who told her that to really succeed in this business one must qualify as a lawyer or an accountant, Alexi returned to law school. Armed now with greater maturity and life experience, she had a new appreciation for the law. These days, when people come to Alexi for career advice, she urges them to take a similar approach to vocational degrees: "Read something that is good for the mind, something that interests you. And then go into the law later, when you have some life experience under your belt."
She took a training contract at Charles Russell, starting and ending her training in the matrimonial department, until she reached an inevitable crossroads. Faced with a career in private practice as a solicitor or her original passion for music, Alexi went with her heart and joined EMI/Virgin Records as an in-house lawyer. She worked there for several years, before being poached by a City law firm and honing her skills amongst leading technical and corporate media lawyers.
At the age of 39, Alexi decided to take a year out. She needed a break and wanted to take a step back to appraise her career. Seeking a complete change of scenery, she lived in Argentina for a period of time, on a farm, riding horses, undertaking music business consultancy work, waiting to see where the pieces fell. A clear mind led to an independent pitch for legal work representing the contestants and finalists on the X Factor. She worked with the likes of JLS and One Direction, and leading management company Modest!. They taught her how important it was for artists to be responsible for themselves, to run their careers like a professional business, but also that some people just have it - that something special.
In 2010, she was approached by the CEO of BMG, a music publisher and record label, who had aspirations of building the next big music company. There had been a complete failure of many businesses to embrace digital, but BMG came in with a new perspective and without the baggage of the past. So Alexi joined them in 2011, this small but ambitious company. She was with them for seven years, during which time revenues more than quadrupled and it globally became the fourth largest music company. She describes it as an incredibly exciting but risky time; she is clear about the importance of trusting yourself, believing you are capable of new things, not being afraid of change, and giving it your best shot.
Alexi talks of her life in "chapters", how phases of her life seem to happen in ten year stages, reflecting the periods of growth as a human being. After BMG, she took another year off. She was ready for the next chapter: setting up her own business. Everything in her life she felt was geared towards building something of her own: not liking institutions and politics, railing against rules, being free-spirited and a strongly passionate person.
She has spent two years working on the blueprint of her new business, Bella Figura Music, gathering all the lessons of her career. Her focus is on technological innovation in the music industry, married with a desire to do the best for clients (the artist, and investors). Building a new business, unencumbered by history, allows you to be nimble: "I have an analogy that if Tesla, Ferrari and early Kobalt, when it was pioneering the application of new technology to the management of music rights, had a baby, it would look like Bella Figura."
Like many of us have and will, Alexi has come across a few 'no's in her time: "It's so important to not take 'no' for an answer. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't listen to good advice, but if you are greeted with negativity, don't be afraid to push back. It's about learning confidence. Keep provoking, keep pushing the door, until you get an answer you can work with."
A long time ago she was pushed out of a job that she was truly very good at. She remembers initially feeling furious, vengeful, before catching herself and going about it the right way. It was a real lesson: "it can be tempting to pick a fight, but there is a great weight that lifts when you walk away from something toxic."
She looks back at her success so far and how her life and career are shaped by her passions. "Do something you love and you are good at." She has thrown her life in the air a few times, which she thinks some might say is reckless. But she takes a different view: "Be fearless in your approach. If you want to succeed, work hard, be motivated, have discipline and have a goal. And enjoy it."
It's been an extraordinary story of success so far. And the proudest moment of her career? She was in New York when the Rolling Stones manager called her to say she had won the publishing deal. She had signed the Rolling Stones.
.At LGT Vestra, we believe in contributing toward a society worth living in. We hope that our 'From all walks of life' series, inspires others regardless of their background to be bold and pursue their ambitions. Read more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
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