Tommy Mottola entered in the music scene in the mid-1960s as a recording artist for CBS Records, under the name "T.D. Valentine". After his attempt to become a recording star himself failed, Mottola started working for publishing powerhouse Chappell Publishing and started his own management company, Champion Entertainment Organization. His role at Chappell put him in touch with many artists, and soon he signed his first successful management clients, Hall & Oates.
Mottola helped Hall and Oates land a record deal and several high-profile endorsements. He was also recognized for successfully using new mediums for promotion, such as music videos and corporate sponsorship for music tours.
Apart from Hall and Oates, Mottola is known as a mentor and former talent manager. His most famous protégés were Carly Simon, John Mellencamp, Diana Ross, and Taylor Dayne in the 1980s, Mariah Carey (whom he married) in the 1990s, and Gloria Estefan, Shakira, Anastacia, and Jennifer Lopez in the early 2000s. He is married to the Mexican actress and singer Thalía.
Mottola was born in New York City and grew up in a middle-class Italian-American family in The Bronx. He graduated from Iona Grammar School in 1962 and Iona Prep in 1966. He attended military school for a time, and then high school. After dropping out of Hofstra University on Long Island, he pursued a music career as a guitarist and singer with The Exotics, an R&B cover band.
In 1988, Mottola was hired by Sony Music (then known as CBS Records) by Walter Yetnikoff (who had been at the company from 1975 to 1990) to run its U.S. operations (it had recently been acquired by the Japan-based Sony corporation). In 1990, he replaced Yetnikoff as Chairman CEO of the newly named Sony Music. During his tenure, he transformed Sony into one of the most successful global music companies, expanding its businesses into over 60 countries, while creating one of the strongest management teams in the industry. He revitalized Sony Music's publishing division by making such acquisitions as the Beatles catalogue and enabled Sony to become the first major music company to make available commercial digital downloads. Additionally, Mottola was the architect for some of Sony's biggest global brands such as Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. During his 15-year tenure, Mottola built Sony up from a company with revenues of $800 million a year to one with over $6 billion of annual revenue by the year 2000.
He is widely well known for signing, developing, and nurturing the careers of Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, Destiny's Child, Anastacia, Shakira, the Dixie Chicks, etc., and for releasing digitally remastered compact discs of the older recordings made by Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Andy Williams, among others. He also is credited with creating the "Latin Explosion" in popular music by championing such Sony artists as Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. He also worked with Michael Jackson from the time he began recording his "Dangerous" (1991) album. During the promotion of "Invincible" (2001), Jackson would later state that his relationship with Mottola dissolved based on corruption in Mottola's working practices, and once charged him with being a "racist who exploited black talent". Jackson has stated later on that, "The recording companies really, really do conspire against the artists." Al Sharpton told the New York Post shortly after that, “I have known Tommy for 15 or 20 years, and never once have I known him to say or do anything that would be considered racist". He admitted he was “taken aback and surprised” by the verbal assault. “In fact, he’s always been supportive of the black music industry,” Sharpton said. “He was the first record executive to step up and offer to help us with respect to corporate accountability, when it comes to black music issues.”
Tommy Mottola was the head of Sony Music Entertainment until January 2003. Since leaving his post as chief of Sony Music, Mottola has been building a new entertainment company, complete with recorded music, television production, theater, and fashion, alongside a branding and management company that had recently launched. He was instrumental in re-launching the various careers of such artists as Grammy winner and Latin pop star Marc Anthony, and teen sensation Lindsay Lohan. Later signings included Cassie Ventura in 2006, and Mika who in 2007 had a #1 single in the UK.
Mottola bought out the rights to Casablanca Records (a then-diminished imprint of Polygram), and resurrected it, signing actress Lindsay Lohan, and Mika.
Mottola published a book titled "Hitmaker" in January 2013, written with Cal Fussman. He details his successes and the drive that propelled him to the top of the business, but also talks at length about the down times.
Mottola produced the recent musical adaptation of Chazz Palminteri's A Bronx Tale. Palminteri credits Mottola with the realization of the new project, developed over the past two years. Mottola brought the idea for A Bronx Tale musical to producer group Dodger Properties and "put the musical on his back". The show started previews at Paper Mill Playhouse on February 4, 2016, opened on February 14, 2016, and closed on March 6, 2016.
A collaboration with former Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein has them teamed on two current projects for live theater, namely producers of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Mottola's TV production arm is currently producing and developing many shows for cable and network television.
Mottola has been married three times. He converted to Judaism to marry his first wife, Lisa Clark, daughter of ABC Records head Sam Clark, in 1971. The couple divorced in 1990, after having two children, Michael and Sarah.
On June 5, 1993, Mottola married his second wife, Mariah Carey. They announced their separation on May 30, 1997 and later divorced.
He married his third wife, the Mexican star and recording artist Thalía, on December 2, 2000, at New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral. The couple has two children, daughter Sabrina Sakaë Mottola, born in October 2007, and son Matthew Alejandro Mottola, born in June 2011