Robert Gordy was born in Detroit, Michigan. He had a brief career as a recording artist, and had a minor hit, as Bob Kayli, with the novelty song, "Everyone Was There", co-written with his brother Berry and leased by him to the Carlton label. The record reached #96 on the BillboardHot 100 in November 1958. He recorded a second single on Gordy's Anna label in 1959, "Never More", before working for a time in the postal service. As his older brother's Motown company expanded, Robert returned to work for it, initially as a recording engineer. He also recorded two further singles as Bob Kayli, "Small Sad Sam" (an answer record to "Big Bad John", Tamla, 1961), and "Hold On Pearl" (Gordy, 1962). Neither was successful, and his career as a recording artist ended.
From 1961, he worked in Motown's publishing arm, Jobete Music. In 1965 he took over as general manager and vice-president of Jobete following the death of his sister Loucye, and reputedly ran the company "like a military platoon". As a songwriter, he co-wrote several songs for early Motown artists including "You're What's Happening (In the World Today)," the B-Side to "I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Motown's biggest single up until that time. As an actor, Robert Gordy also played the character "Hawk" in the 1972 film, Lady Sings the Blues. By 1974, Jobete had a catalog of over 7,000 songs, with Robert Gordy stating that his aim for the company was to have a "well-rounded stable" of songs, including country and western as well as its established repertoire. He continued to head Jobete until 1985.