Fear would strike when the voice on the other end of the phone line said, "Please hold for Frances Preston." Frances would get you on the phone and, with her Southern charm, her tremendous charisma, and her powerful personality, sway you to her way of thinking. Everyone knew you couldn't win going up against Fran Preston. Fran was the queen of persuasion.
Frances Preston headed BMI from 1986 to 2004, and the organization grew tremendously under her leadership. I didn't know her predecessors at BMI, but I'm told Fran's command over the organization was unparalleled. Though I'd had little contact with her since she retired and moved back to Nashville from New York, I was deeply saddened to learn of her passing.
As a young executive, I found Fran to be a mentor to me. Though I had learned many lessons from other executives I'd encountered, she taught me by example, with her leadership. Some people are in leadership positions but don't lead, while others are true leaders. Fran was a true leader. She could make the smallest and least significant feel important, yet hold her own with the president of the United States and other heads of state, and of course the top musicians in the world.
Fran had confidence without an ounce of arrogance, and she wielded a velvet hammer. Her reputation for winning gave her tremendous power, and she won many a battle because others simply declined to take her on. If she couldn't get her goals accomplished on her own, she could pick up the phone and get someone else to say yes. I have never in my career met another executive who combined so much power and political clout with so much ability to lead.
The old adage that the way to get something done is to give it to a busy person was proven time and again by Fran Preston. There was no project too large or too overwhelming for her to handle, with excellence that appeared effortless. She surrounded herself with brilliant executives and delegated effectively, and she and her team moved mountains. But never did Fran claim credit for herself -- it was always her team and others who got the praise.
Another important lesson I learned from Fran was in her attention to detail and passion for excellence at every turn. We once worked together on a project, and her constant mantra was, "We can do this better." She was a living example of the power of doing things as well as they could be done. Fran raised the bar for everyone in the music and broadcast business.
Fran Preston rose in this industry at a time when it was still very much a man's world. She was a tremendous example and mentor to both women and men; I've often wished I possessed her skills and finesse.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Fran's abilities was the transition at BMI after her retirement. She had planned every detail and executed a long-term plan, and the organization never skipped a beat. I suspect she had worked that plan for some time, readying her team for the transition long before they knew she was planning to retire. She selected a powerhouse successor in Del Bryant, who has not only maintained the class and power Fran brought to BMI, but who is building on her work while putting his own unique stamp on the enterprise.
It's rare to see an individual of this quality in any industry, and we were blessed to know and learn from Fran Preston.
We salute Frances Preston. The music and radio industries are better because of her leadership.