Mo Ostin (born March 27, 1927) is an American record executive who has worked for several companies, including Verve, Reprise Records, Warner Bros. Records, and DreamWorks. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 by Paul Simon, Neil Young, and Lorne Michaels. He is known among his colleagues as the most artist-friendly executive in the music business.
Born to a Jewish family, Ostin was hired as president of Reprise by Frank Sinatra from Verve where he had been the Administrative Executive and Controller. At Reprise he was involved with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., and the Kinks.
In 1967, after a trip to the Monterey Pop Festival, he signed Jimi Hendrix.
Eventually he became the president of Reprise's parent company, Warner Bros. Records, where he signed numerous acts, including The Beach Boys, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, the Fugs, Paul Simon, Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Prince and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ostin's work made Warners the biggest record company in the world and a model for the artist-friendly late 20th-century record company, creating an image of Warner Bros. as a haven for top musicians. The Warner creative execs included Joe Smith, Lenny Waronker, Stan Cornyn, Ted Templeman and David Berman. In late 1994, when Ostin's contract came up for renewal, he came into conflict with then Warner Music Group chairman Robert J. Morgado, whose controversial tenure led to the departure of several key Warner group executives. After over two decades heading WBR, Ostin decided not to renew his contract and he officially left the Warner Music Group in December 1994.
He returned to music in 1996 to lead DreamWorks Records for David Geffen. Under his 8-year tenure the label had successes with Nelly Furtado, Papa Roach, and All-American Rejects. The label was sold in 2004 and Ostin retired, although he has since returned to Warner Bros. Records as Chairman Emeritus.
In 2003 Ostin was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2006 Ostin was presented with the Grammy Icon award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
In May 2011, Ostin donated $10 million to his alma mater UCLA, where he earned an economics degree, for a state-of-the-art campus music facility known as the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center. He presently sits on the UCLA Board of Visitors for the UCLA School of Arts, and the USC Board of Advisors for the Thornton School of Music. In March, 2015, Ostin donated $10 million to UCLA for a new Basketball training facility, which will be called the Mo Ostin Basketball Center.
Ostin was the inspiration for Little Feat's song “A Apolitical Blues” and its lyric "The telephone was ringing, and they told me it was Chairman Mao" was a veiled reference to chairman Mo. Good friend George Harrison wrote "Mo" for him that appeared on the compilation Mo's Songs. Ostin is also rumoured to be the inspiration behind Neil Young's song "Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze".