On Facebook, Rumsey’s passing distressed many current and former music business participants but also evoked fond memories and praise for Rumsey’s leadership.
“Its unreal how many people [Rumsey] mentored and touched along the way,” read a Facebook post by Antone DeSantis, who worked for Rumsey early in his career and is now currently an industry and sales marketing consultant for his own firm, Music Business Development. “Gene’s spirit and tenacity lives on in so many of us.”
Likewise, Erin Yasgar, a music industry digital and marketing executive who founded her own firm, Silver Lake Digital, and who ran marketing for EMD’s national account group, said in a Facebook post, “Gene was probably most responsible for developing the way I think. He taught me to ask questions, solve problems, [and told me] ‘when I ask for your opinion it’s not a trick question. I genuinely want to know what you think, even if you don’t agree with me.’ I have passed many of those nuggets to my teams over the years. He remained someone I always looked to for advice…I am lucky to have experienced a boss that became a mentor and then a friend. I can only hope that [kind of experience] for everyone starting out in their careers.”
Another former CEMA staffer on Facebook wrote about the time Rumsey offered him a job at the company when he was in college. But Rumsey threatened to withdraw the job offer if the potential employee didn’t stay in — and graduate — from college while working. Before starting his career, Rumsey himself graduated from Villanova University and later got an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Rumsey’s love for music led him to pursue a career in the music industry. Before even landing his first industry job, Rumsey was a musician; and while known for his leadership on the business side, Rumsey often quoted the Tower Records marketing axiom, “No Music, No Life,” according to his family.
His first job in the industry came in the early 1970s, when he worked as a sales clerk for the long-defunct Wee Three Records chain in Philadelphia. From there, his rise through the ranks of the industry included a position at Suburban One Stop; a merchandiser at Capitol Records; a sales representative at pioneering indie distributor Schwartz Bros.; and then back to EMI as a Capitol sales representative in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, according to his biography. In moving back to the New York City metropolitan area in the late 1980s, Rumsey eventually become the company’s New York branch manager, overseeing a staff of about 25 employees.
While in that position, Rumsey often interacted with his boss, CEMA president Russ Back, and Koppelman, who both helped foster Rumsey’s emergence as a top business executive for the company. While holding the title of executive vp of sales and marketing for EMD, Rumsey played key roles in managing the campaigns behind Frank Sinatra’s Duets album; Garth Brooks’ Greatest Hits; and the Beatles I anthology. He also helped introduce the wildly successful Now That’s What I Call Music series to the U.S. marketplace.
After leaving EMI, Rumsey joined Concord Music, where he eventually became GM and chief operating officer, among other top positions, for the then-small indie label. But working with then-Concord label head Glen Barros, he helped the company achieve its first multi-platinum success with Ray Charles’ Genius Loves Company, when went on to sell 3.33 million units and overall 3.5 million album consumption units. According to a biography supplied to Billboard, Rumsey helped grow the label from under $20 million in annual revenue when he joined in 2003 to over $100 million during his tenure, which ended in 2013.
While at Concord, Rumsey also helped develop the label’s relationship with Starbucks, which resulted in the retailer’s very successful compilation series and the signing of Paul McCartney for the release of his Memory Almost Full album through the Concord/Starbucks venture. Beyond Rumsey’s help in securing the Starbucks relationship, Rumsey was highly regarded by all of the industry’s retail partners throughout his career.
Former HMV and Amazon Music executive Bob Douglas calls Rumsey’s passing a sad loss. “I have fond memories of him looking out for me when I first came to the States to work for HMV,” Douglas tells Billboard. “In theory we worked for the same company at the time. So my first stop was Hackensack to touch base with Gene as CEMA branch manager. I was a very green and shell shocked retailer fresh off the boat from Ireland and he was kind and generous with his time and insights into the American way. A pleasure to do business with, his was always the broadest and most welcoming smile when you got into NARM [the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, now called the Music Business Association].”
Beyond his many successful business accomplishments, Rumsey may also be best remembered for his initiative in helping many young executives along the way. “He always taught all of us, we could do better — without making us feel like we weren’t doing enough,” Yasgar, who worked under Rumsey at EMD, also posted on Facebook. “Magic, really.”
Rumsey is survived by his wife, Kathy; his daughters Colleen Ponsot and her husband Douglas; Kelly McMahon and her husband Nicholas; stepdaughters Shannon and Lauren O’Connor; his sister, Mary Sharon Rumsey; and his former wife Marie Provenzano.