Who talked a client out of walking on hot coals? Who dissuaded another from buying a $200,000 grill full of diamonds? Meet the most trusted moneymen and women (who manage assets and help make smart investments) in Hollywood on THR's list of those protecting the future.
Reported and written by Paul Bond, Eriq Gardner, Bryn Elise Sandberg, Austin Siegemund-Broka and Rebecca Sun
Altman, who manages money for Dwayne Johnson and Tom Hanks, says he rarely has to push clients into downsizing or spending less — in recent years, anyway: "The difficult economy and horrible markets several years ago have people thinking more carefully before they do anything." Altman co-founded the firm — which counts Kate Beckinsale, Magic Johnson and Studio 8 film chief Jeff Robinov as clients — with Grant, Jane Tani and Corey Barash about 25 years ago and maintains that the entertainment industry is "on the upswing now."
Quirkiest investment: "Someone wanted to open a gym-equipment store," says Grant. "I had another client who once owned a McDonald's franchise and another who wanted to own a Subway. You can't make much money from those if you have to hire someone to run it for you. It just doesn't make economic sense."
(Photo: Warren Grant pictured)
"You win by not losing," says Savitsky, whose father founded the firm 25 years ago. Bacon also has family ties to business management; his wife is a partner at another firm. Today, 95 percent of Savitsky Satin & Bacon's clients are in the entertainment industry, including film producers, actors and studio execs, and the firm also has recently taken on more digital-media clients who are attracted to its conservative financial strategy. "Most of our clients will earn their way to retirement with our guidance," says Savitsky. "There is no need to take an aggressive approach to investing."
Biggest check written: Savitsky: "It was in the high millions, and unfortunately it was to pay taxes. Ick."
Oddest client spending: Bacon: "Transporting pets on a private jet … by themselves."
Bell and Liza de Leon founded the firm in 1985, mostly representing news personalities, many of whom still are clients (including Bill O'Reilly, Marv Albert and Richard Quest). Bell's clientele has become heavier on writer-directors, including Steven Soderbergh, Gavin O'Connor and two who just brought films to Toronto: Cary Fukunaga and Gavin Hood. The firm recently picked up its first two agent clients (both from WME). "We were very flattered when they turned their finances over to us," says Bell. "When agents turn anything over to anybody, it means a lot."
Quirkiest investment: "When Soderbergh was filming Che, he found a white brandy that was never sold outside of Bolivia. He began importing it five years ago. Now he's entered high-end spirits competitions and come out with a ribbon at almost every one, and it's on the menu in almost every high-end bar in L.A., including Soho House. It started out as a hobby, but now the company is worth millions. Instead of fees, he wants me to take equity, and I was honored and blown away. But he wants the tagline to be, 'This shit will get you lit.' We're arguing about it."
More secretive than the NSA — good luck finding its website — the firm reps such stars as Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie. Still, bits of information about the company dribble out, like the 2013 listing of Paramount CEO Brad Grey's $25 million mansion, which included Tessler as a trustee. The firm also was noted in the credits to Bruce Springsteen's 2014 short film Hunter of Invisible Game.
Beyond secretive: The partners have never given a press interview.
The firm, perhaps the best known of business management companies, still reps lots of sports and entertainment clients (like Drake and Pharrell) but also has taken on more tech billionaires and moneyed families. Where do they get clients to spend less? "Start with private jets," says Karlin.
Quirkiest investment: Bolno: "A few years ago, a client had me meet with a few guys who had developed an app that would supposedly disrupt the car service and taxi industry. I'm happy to say my client was an early investor in Uber."
The UCLA alumnus shares a philanthropic passion with many of his clients — among them Shailene Woodley, Nerdist's Chris Hardwick and producing duo Stargate (Rihanna, Beyonce) — helping them set up and manage their nonprofit entities and serving as an active board member.
Best bang for your buck: "Barneys warehouse sale."
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Davis reps behind-the-camera talent including Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray and Hawaii Five-0 showrunner Peter Lenkov. She says she's open-minded when it comes to managing the finances of high-net-worth individuals.
Quirkiest investment: One client approached her about investing in a cannabis enterprise. "I don't think this is so crazy anymore," says Davis. "We're basically at the end of prohibition, and it won't be illegal forever, federally. I see it as an opportunity."
On Sept. 1, Fulton started his own solo practice focused on entertainment players, with some of young Hollywood's most notable names (Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Channing Tatum and the Hemsworth brothers) in tow. He's expanded his roster to include YouTubers (Jenna Marbles, Rhett and Link), musicians (Colbie Caillat, Hall & Oates) and MMA stars (Conor McGregor).
Quirkiest investment: "I've had more than a few clients buy Iraqi currency. No one has done well in it."
The firm, founded by Gelfand's father, Marshall, in 1967, now has more than 300 employees and an office in Nashville for music clients. Gelfand, who reps Bob Dylan, Will Smith and snowboarder Shaun White, says, "Being able to work on a client's team is important to us."
Management philosophy: Gelfand is intent on avoiding a business-management cliche: "I don't want to be that guy who says, 'I tell my clients no,' " adding that he prefers to educate them. "It's a team decision led by the president, which is the client."
Selvaggi and Greenfield work with top talent — including Sarah Jessica Parker, Kevin Spacey, Steve Martin, Jimmy Fallon, Jessica Chastain and Ashton Kutcher — in an unusual bicoastal setup, with Selvaggi operating out of New York and Greenfield, who also manages Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, working in L.A. This arrangement proved convenient for East Coast client John Goodman one recent afternoon when he desperately needed a cashier's check to get his car out of a California body shop.
Management philosophy: "Keep clients from spending all their money," jokes Greenfield. "Hopefully they build a cushion for when their show gets canceled."
Quirkiest investment: Greenfield: "A client put maybe 50 grand into anti-stress water two years ago. I'm still waiting for it to hit the shelves at Whole Foods."
Herrmann's clients in the news business include Matt Lauer, Barbara Walters and Maria Bartiromo, who in 2014 jumped from CNBC to the Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. Herrmann also represents Liam Neeson and Martin Scorsese and is presently working on a large capital transaction with a celebrity chef.
Quirkiest investment: Though Herrmann advised against it, a wealthy client invested in Kinky Boots, the Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. "In three years, he has made 156 percent. I was wrong," Herrmann concedes.
A second-generation business manager, Kaplan left Ernst & Young, where he worked on the launch of DreamWorks, to join his father's firm in 1996. These days, the company reps more than 400 clients in entertainment, including actors, directors and musicians, and Kaplan is particularly proud of efforts to help entertainers on the branding front.
Oddest client purchase: Kaplan had a client who bought a capuchin monkey. "I was at their house," he says. "The monkey was wearing a diaper."
When Landesman started his firm in 1989, Eddie Murphy was client No. 1, followed by Arsenio Hall and Chris Rock. The New York-based manager (who plans to open an L.A. office in early 2016) continues to boast a comedy-heavy roster that's chock-full of Saturday Night Live stars past (Tracy Morgan, Tina Fey, Jason Sudeikis) and present (Jay Pharoah, Cecily Strong), but he has added other talent (Lupita Nyong'o, Zac Efron, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively) to his list of clients.
Best financial advice: "Real estate should be bought for lifestyle or investment purposes, not to sit empty. A $5 million house can cost $500,000 a year to maintain, and a $5 million portfolio can pay $500,000 a year. That's a $1 million swing on cash flow every year."
It was Starz CEO Chris Albrecht who told Lichtenberg to become a business manager in the early 1980s, when Lichtenberg was an accountant (and Albrecht was an ICM agent). Lichtenberg formed Level Four in 2007, merging his firm with that of Mark Friedman, Charles Clancy and John Rigney. The boutique now reps a roster of established comedians, including Larry David and Will Ferrell, while scouting new clients on Funny or Die and YouTube. "It's the natural progression of where entertainment dollars are going," says Lichtenberg.
Quirkiest investment: "Inventions, like that beer helmet a client's friend convinced my client to invest in. I tell them, 'Just consider this money gone.' "
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McCready, who reps Kelly Clarkson, Keith Urban and Blake Shelton, is a veteran of Nashville's music scene — she was a sales and marketing vp with Columbia Records in the 1980s before founding her firm with Chuck Flood and Frank Bumstead in 1990. "Artists were underserved by garden-variety tax and audit firms," says McCready. "We wanted to help them make informed decisions."
Personal extravagance: "Expensive vacations."
When McIlwee isn't overseeing purchasing habits or weighing in on investments, he's creating what he calls "win-win situations" for his clients (Selma Blair, Laura Dern, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves and newcomers Dominic Sherwood and Heather Lind). "I like to connect people to brands in order to create opportunities," says McIlwee. This is precisely what he did earlier this year when he suggested to the Hammer Museum that his client Jane Lynch would be an ideal host for its annual September gala.
Advice for clients in an economic downturn: "If someone has a ton of cash, there's no reason they should make any changes in a downturn. On the contrary, that's when I say go on a buying spree because prices are depressed."
I always say no when clients ask to: "Invest in a club or a restaurant."
Quirkiest purchase: "I have a client [David Arquette] who loves puppets. He uses them in his nightclub, Bootsy Bellows. We get boxes delivered from Europe, where they're made."
Meeks focuses on film and TV executives and producers, including Dick Wolf, Friends masterminds Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, as well as Jerry Bruckheimer. He also works with reality TV firms, such as Last Comic Standing and Top Chef producer Magical Elves, specializing in establishing new companies and guiding them through mergers and acquisitions. "We [handle] different parts of the business so that we kind of see and hear everything that is going on," he says of his firm of nearly 70 managers.
Do I say no to clients? "I'd say that my advice helps them make an informed decision. But it always comes down to their choice. It's their money."
Management philosophy: "You just need to listen. Listening is crucial. You need to hear what the clients are saying."
Longtime friends Meyer and Rodriguez are obsessive about details, and that extends to servicing clients including Johnny Galecki, Adam Driver and Vine star Logan Paul (Rodriguez handles most of the firm's music and production industry clientele, including girl group Fifth Harmony and ad agency Droga5). They've designed an online portal that allows clients to access their complete financial picture on demand, including a line item called "cash date" — the date at which, based on the most conservative assumptions, a client's cash flow would expire. "We're not going to allow them to be separated from knowing what's going on," says Meyer.
Biggest check cut: A real estate purchase with eight zeroes before the decimal point.
Best bang for your buck: Buying in downtown L.A.'s Arts District, says Meyer. "It's not as easy as it used to be, but it's a phenomenal opportunity, like [New York City's] Meatpacking District in the early '90s."
Quirkiest purchase: Rodriguez: "A cow, a few goats and a bunch of chickens. Nothing like receiving an invoice for a bunch of farm animals."
Neuman spent a decade at Deloitte doing IPOs and other transactional work in the entertainment industry. But then his father, a certified public accountant, had a stroke. Neuman rushed to the hospital and agreed to help his father's business. He soon learned that working with individuals was his calling, and he now represents such top entertainers as Ellen DeGeneres, Scarlett Johansson and Lily Tomlin. He also will take all sorts of pitches from entrepreneurs aiming to get his clients' investment: "Everyone comes to the meeting and says, 'We're the next Uber.' "
Management philosophy: "Pay yourself first, before the mortgage or utility bill" — meaning, take a portion of each paycheck and sock it away in savings.
Reback started working with fellow business manager Derrick Lee when they shared a client in 1994. "We became fast friends," he says. "We realized that we could create a great company together, not only for our clients, but for our staff as well." Lee and Reback founded their firm a decade later, and it now consists of six business managers. Just before client Elizabeth Taylor's death in 2011, they introduced her to client Catherine Opie, a fine art photographer, and the result of the meeting is 700 Nimes Road, a book due Oct. 6 featuring photos of the legendary actress and her private belongings.
Management philosophy: "We want clients to worry about being brilliant. They should understand their finances but not devote a lot of time or worry to them. We are really good at worrying for them."
On Sept. 21, Focus — a New York-based partnership of wealth management firms that counts more than $325 million in annual revenue and was ranked this past year by Crain's as one of the nation's fastest-growing private companies — announced that its partner firm FFO had merged with Rudolph's L.A.-based accounting and financial planning firm, Capell Rudolph. The move has brought bicoastal services to Rudolph clients including Tom Werner, Marcy Carsey, Jimmy Iovine, Bob Newhart and Ben Silverman. Rudolph now will serve as executive director of FFO.
The Focus family: FFO's merger with Capell Rudolph was struck simultaneously with its addition of tax firm The McNulty Group. The two deals nearly double FFO's size.
Shapiro's boutique firm handles "significant" clients including fashion icon (and Hollywood filmmaker) Tom Ford, sports personalities, writers for Modern Family and individuals who are involved in the X-Men and Star Trek franchises, though he doesn't handle quite as many rock stars as he used to. "In music, there's a lot of hand-holding. You're cleaning up a lot of messes," he says. "It gets old." He's proud of his nickname among clients: Dr. No, a reference to his aptitude for persuading them against spending that could hurt their futures. Does the volatility of the stock market impact his clients? Says Shapiro, who established his firm in 1980: "We recommend diversification and appropriate allocation based on age and career. You never know how long careers are going to last, so we encourage savings and make tax-deferred investments where appropriate."
Spending advice: "A $300,000 car is insignificant when you can afford it, but we still don’t advocate it."
Best client investment: "A client bought an Andy Warhol painting for $1.5 million and sold it 20 years later for $35 million."
Worst client investment: "Clients have stood in line to invest in restaurants, including Hard Rock Cafes, all of which, after thorough analysis, were discouraged."
The biggest challenge facing the Atlanta-based business manager, who celebrated his practice's 20th anniversary in May, remains convincing many of his artist clients that a flashy lifestyle does not translate into financial well-being. "I've had clients purchase a Lamborghini one year and sell it the next because it's not the newest model," he says. "I tell my clients numerous times: 'You can be king for a day or a prince for a lifetime.' " The key has been to set strong budgeting initiatives from the outset so that clients like Justin Bieber still are covered financially, even when they step away from the mic for a while. Smallwood, who also represents Chris Brown and The-Dream, recently began working with Jamaican singer Omi, whose "Cheerleader" was anointed Billboard's Song of the Summer.
Downsizing advice: "We teach that your wealth, not your earnings, may dictate your lifestyle. So even in an economic downturn, if the strategy is sound, there's no real downsizing required if that lifestyle is built on a foundation of worth as opposed to earnings."
Quirkiest investment: "We don't really do 'quirky' — another way of saying that is 'risky.' I try to stay middle of the road."
Taylor had been working for an accounting firm in New York when, still in her mid-20s, she founded her own company 23 years ago. Today, it operates from offices in Los Angeles and Nashville with 55 staffers and 15 business managers, all of whom she describes as "servant-hearted professionals." None, though, are partners. Taylor helped Britney Spears navigate a two-year extension for 96 more shows at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and assisted in making sure Gwen Stefani returned as a judge on The Voice. She's also helping Steven Tyler with his recently announced solo country album.
Management advice: "I don't subscribe to business managers being asset managers." Her advice: "slow investments with a guaranteed rate of return."
Saying no to clients: One client wanted to invest in a dog massage therapy school to train people to soothe dogs, but Taylor persuaded the client to reconsider. She talked another client out of an Aston Martin recently because he already had six cars, and another out of a "full grill of diamonds" for his teeth that would have cost him $200,000. "It was the dumbest thing I ever heard. Sometimes this can be exhausting."
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"Our clients are basically brands now and have opportunities that never were present before," says Weise, who has become an "outsourced chief financial officer" for top artists including The Weeknd, Usher and Coldplay. What distinguishes Weise's Encino, Calif.-based firm, which opened a U.K. office last year, is its array of specialties covering every need in music accounting, including touring, royalty management, tax, insurance — and even an in-house legal department. Those extensive resources come in handy both for classic clients (Carole King) and for those who rule today's white-hot EDM scene (Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Avicii, among others).
Advice for a downturn: Be realistic: "Once you've experienced the charter planes, no one wants to go commercial. No one wants to go backward in life. But one day you're going to stop playing music, and where are you going to be then?"
Quirkiest client request: "A client wanted $50,000 in cash to go to a retreat to walk on hot coals for 30 minutes. I told him that for $100, I’d burn some coals in the office and save him $49,900. He almost fired me."
Best deal right now: "Move out of California."