Hollywood's 25 Most Powerful Business Managers

8:30 AM 10/1/2014

by THR staff

THR's annual list of the industry's most trusted moneymen and women, who open up about everything from the $18.75 million necklace one client bought for a mistress ("we manage finances — we don't manage morality") to their biggest no-nos (don't even think about trying to open a restaurant)

Money Illustration - H 2014
Illustration by: Wren McDonald

Money Illustration - H 2014

  • Howard Altman

    One of the industry's pioneers, Altman was a CPA at Arthur Andersen before making the leap to business management in 1990. His client list has grown to include Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Alba and Naomi Watts.

    Biggest deal overseen "An over-$100 million business purchase. I can't say what kind."

    I always say no when clients ask "I never do that. There's no silly idea until you investigate thoroughly. Something I may have said no to early on might turn out to be the smartest investment ever made."

  • Jeff Bacon

    Since 1990, Bacon has built a client list that includes Warren Beatty, Simon Fuller, Don Cheadle and producer Joe Roth. Beyond stars in film, TV and sports, Bacon's firm boasts a rapidly growing presence in the digital media space.

    Hollywood moment "A client called to tell me she was the winning bidder at auction on a piece of art. She asked me to execute payment to the auction house for over $1 million. In that same conversation, she expressed outright displeasure that her auto insurance premium increased by $200 when the policy was renewed."

    Smartest client investment "A professional sports franchise."

  • Evan Bell

    Bell co-founded his firm with Liza De Leon in 1985, and his clients include Bill O'Reilly, Steven Soderbergh and Cary Fukunaga as well as about a dozen NFL players, though he is abandoning them in October. "They're unresponsive, uninvolved, surrounded by entourages and posses, and they don't listen to our advice," says Bell. "There's a culture among players -- they don't care. What's happening with the NFL in the news is how they handle their finances. There's no respect and no accountability. It's a culture."

    Biggest check cut "A necklace for $18.75 million. And this was not delivered to my client's wife, and it was specifically requested that it not show up on the cash flow. We manage finances -- we don't manage morality."

    I always say no when clients ask "When they want to invest in movies, restaurants or get married without a prenup." Although he admits that Soderbergh and Channing Tatum's decision to finance Magic Mike with their own money turned out to be smart: "You have no idea how much I begged and pleaded with them not to do it. It cost $7 million to produce, and it has made $167 million worldwide. I've never looked so stupid."

  • David Bolno

    He joined the New York- and L.A.-based firm in 2005 and was named partner six years later. Although he co-founded its sports business, he now specializes in music, with such clients as Drake and will.i.am. He tries to build balanced portfolios but always recommends clients reinvest in their careers: "For most of my clients, that is the best return on their investment."

    Biggest check cut "I oversaw and managed a deal on behalf of a client in excess of $200 million."

    Smartest client investment "The most unique deals that I have seen are different technology investments -- for those clients with an appetite for some risk but only a small percentage of their portfolios. I have clients invested in Uber, Spotify, Pinterest, etc."

  • William Broder

    For 49 years, Broder has been affiliated with his firm, one of the few that provides an investment management service to go along with its business management practice. "We have not identified any investment firm that can consistently beat the market averages. We don't try," says Broder. "We are perfectly happy with market-like performance for those clients exposed to the equity markets."

    Biggest check cut "I was the managing member of a real estate project involving my clients and other investors that sold a piece of prime L.A. real estate at the height of the market in 2006 for $110 million."

    Smartest client investment "A group of clients invested $1 million in a project in Santa Monica in 2003 and sold it in 2006 for a return of $8 million."

    Personal extravagance "I spend way too much on the latest and greatest digital SLR and lenses. I'm an amateur photographer and take photographs at every opportunity."

  • Andrew Crow

    In 2003, Crow joined a business management firm looking to develop younger clients. Today those efforts have led to the firm signing hot stars Jared Leto, Shailene Woodley and Nerdist exec and Comedy Central host Chris Hardwick. "Youth equates to a little bit more hand-holding, a lot of being proactive, a lot of collaboration," says Crow, a yoga freak who cites his involvement in Woodley's work with several nonprofits as among his most satisfying.

    Smartest client investment "I'd say buying Berkshire Hathaway stock."

    I always say no when clients ask to "Invest in nightclubs or lend money to friends."

  • Richard Feldstein

    Feldstein, who is Jonah Hill's father in addition to a top business manager, counts Madonna, Lenny Kravitz and members of Maroon 5 among his roster of clients. But his phone manners could be improved. When contacted by THR for an interview, he demanded to know who else would be included on this list. And when he was told no, he hung up.

  • Eric Fulton

    Fulton is building his business on what he calls "Hollywood's next generation." That includes actors Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Liam and Chris Hemsworth. "The one trait I've heard from clients over the years is that I am very calming," says Fulton, a Southern California native who takes his three sons to Dodgers games. "I don't know if that means people think I'm boring."

    Smartest client investment "I actually had clients who funded a company that did film distribution in every venue except theaters -- airlines, ocean liners, prisons, schools and such. That went on to pay back people about 500 percent return on their money."

    Personal extravagance "My Dodgers season tickets."

  • Todd Gelfand

    This year, Gelfand's firm merged with another outfit and instantly grew to more than 300 employees with clients including Bob Dylan, Will Smith and NBA star Carmelo Anthony. The baseball fanatic also reached a personal milestone in 2014, completing visits to all 30 major league parks with his college-bound son. Upon returning home, he hosted a party at Dodger Stadium to celebrate. "It was a great father-son adventure," he says.

    I always say no when clients ask to "Start their own restaurant."

    Smartest client investment "Themselves. More music. More films. Investments are not just money."

  • Barry Greenfield

    An L.A. native who has run his firm since 1991, Greenfield frets about high taxes for his clientele, which includes Ashton Kutcher, Gwyneth Paltrow and Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon. "The combined rate for our clients is close to 50 percent between California and federal," he says. "Some complain. Some accept it as part of being here."

    Hollywood moment "One client arrived on the red-eye from L.A. to New York and called me to say his luggage was lost. I said, 'Yes, they have service counters to go to.' "

    Smartest client investment "Buying Tesla stock against my advice. I was convinced Tesla was going to go under, and he said, 'Nah,' and he was right."

  • Arnie Herrmann

    Herrmann is a marquee New York name at a firm with more than 650 employees in six offices. His clients include Martin Scorsese, Scott Rudin, Matt Lauer and Barbara Walters. The services of the New Jersey native run the gamut from accounting to most recently figuring out what to do with more than $100 million entrusted to an investment fund manager who died.

    Biggest check cut "A roughly $50 million wire transfer for liquid investments."

    Smartest client investment "[Restaurateur] Phil Suarez invested in Kinky Boots. I tried to dissuade him from investing in Broadway. It's a huge hit, and now he brings up what I said in conversations."

  • Michael Karlin

    Karlin shared a story about client Joan Rivers at her recent funeral. She once asked him how much money she had in the bank. When he told her, she asked that it be delivered to her house so she could touch it. Karlin asked, "For real?" Rivers eventually let him off the hook. "She just wanted to know it could be accessed," he says.

    Smartest client investment "Real estate put in the hands of a seasoned professional. Not exciting, but the tortoise wins the race."

    Personal extravagance "Fine California cabernets and French bordeaux."

  • Mark Landesman

    No business manager represents more Saturday Night Live alums than Landesman, which also means he dealt with a trying circumstance in June when client Tracy Morgan was involved in a serious car crash. "People talk about health care proxies, but it's rare to get called to task for it," he says. "Very eye-opening."

    I always say no when clients ask to "Invest in a restaurant -- because they've never worked out in 30 years other than to secure a good table."

  • Matt Lichtenberg

    During the '80s, Lichtenberg worked at the Improv comedy club, where he met comics including Larry David and Will Ferrell, who later would become his clients. He also reps musicians, including members of Limp Bizkit and The Smashing Pumpkins.

    Smartest client investment "A client bought a boatload of Apple stock at $44."

    I always say no when clients ask to "Buy a Boeing 767-200."

  • John McIlwee

    McIlwee joined Rick Shephard's shingle right out of UCLA and has helped grow it to about 80 clients. He recommends traditional investments like real estate for clients like Jane Lynch and Schiff Co. founder David Schiff but has a personal weakness for art: "I won't say there isn't a business manager side of me that thinks I'm buying something that won't go up in value."

    Personal extravagance McIlwee and his partner recently donated two Annie Lapin paintings to LACMA and OCMA.


  • Mary Ann McCready

    McCready did as much as anyone to build Nashville's music scene in the 1970s and '80s. She estimates she had 10 different jobs, including vp marketing and sales at CBS Records. After helping sell Country Music Television during the early '90s, she has come to represent several country superstars, including Blake Shelton and Keith Urban.

    I always say no when clients ask to "Exploit a tax loophole."

    Personal extravagance "Expensive vacations. I just got back from Belize. Lots of bicycle trips in Greece. I went around the world on a private jet last year."

  • Harley Neuman

    Serving Hollywood clients, says Neuman, whose 25-employee firm has about 75 of them, calls for a personalized approach. "Emma Roberts only texts me," he says. "Mel [Brooks] doesn't even email, he picks up the phone. A big part of this job is figuring out how your client relates to money and helping them navigate the treacherous waters of having a lot of it very quickly."

    Personal extravagance April's post-tax-season trip to the Maldives. Next on his bucket list: an African safari.

  • Fred Nigro

    Nigro helped invent celebrity business management more than three decades ago when his Beverly Hills firm was approached to do accounting work for Days of Our Lives. "From there, we got referred to handle a rock 'n' roll band called Fleetwood Mac that needed an accountant to go on the road with them," says Nigro. "Then Steve McQueen needed somebody. One thing led to another." Now he's got about 500 clients.

    Biggest deal overseen: David Letterman's four-lot purchase at Herring Creek Farm in 2001, part of a $64 million, 215-acre deal that was the biggest in Martha's Vineyard history.

    I always say no when clients ask "People are always coming to our clients to borrow money. A lot of times the clients can't say no, so you have to help them with that."

  • Bob Philpott

    The former Marine's training serves him well as managing partner of the Encino-based firm he founded in 1984. "Any time you get military discipline, you get attention to detail," says one industry peer. That focus helps Philpott service the sprawling careers of entertainment titans such as Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer, two of the firm's approximately 150 clients.

  • Lawrence Rudolph

    Rudolph specializes in representing top executives such as Jimmy Iovine, Marcy Carsey and Ben Silverman. "He's the only business manager I would ever trust to be around my money," says producer John Davis. But Davis is reluctant to refer colleagues to Rudolph. "I don't like to do that, because when you've got a good thing, why share it?" he says. "Don't tell anybody!"

  • Steve Savitsky

    It was Savitsky's father who persuaded his son to join the firm (and whether the Savitsky in the name refers to George or Steve changes "depending on whom you ask," jokes the younger Savitsky). His father has transitioned out of an active role, but there's one piece of his advice Savitsky says still is central to how the firm runs: "Never lose your integrity."

    I always say no when clients ask to "Invest in restaurants. My feeling is, unless the free food adds up to your investment, don't do it."

    Personal extravagance "Italy with my wife. It's the longest vacation I've taken in 20 years."

  • Jonathan Schwartz

    Schwartz, who at 44 is his firm's youngest partner, will go to extremes to help his clients: He once invited NFL cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who had blown through $5 million in his first two seasons, to stay at his home for a couple of weeks for an experiential education in living responsibly. Cromartie's retirement now is fully funded through age 100.

    Biggest check cut "Probably a private plane. For some of these high-profile clients, you're not going to see them walking around LAX."

    I always say no when clients ask to Deduct clothing budgets on tax returns. "It sounds silly, but it was a big area of abuse by artists and actors in the past."

  • Solomon Smallwood

    "Nowadays, it's really the cars. The jewelry is not as bad as it used to be," says the Atlanta-based Smallwood of the spending habits of his music superstar clients, who include Justin Bieber, Usher and Chris Brown. He has represented each since they were teens and encourages them to read business articles and books (The Millionaire Next Door is a frequent recommendation). He also cautions them against overspending by having them fill out fast-food job applications.

    Smartest client investment "I like to look for opportunities where the strategy is twofold: the short-term cash flow but long-term appreciation."

    Personal extravagance "I've traveled to Italy quite a bit, from the Amalfi Coast to Rome, Florence, Venice."

  • Lou Taylor

    Taylor, who reps music stars Britney Spears and Steven Tyler and scores of sports figures like St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, likes to give clients visual representations of their finances, like when she showed a group of NFL players $1 million in cash, then took out portions to represent extravagances like jewelry. "If every time they had to purchase something, I put the money into their hand: 'Would you do it?' " she says she asked them.

    Biggest check cut "For an island. It wasn't a huge island, but it was their island."

    Personal extravagance "The only thing I personally spend money on is shoes -- Yves Saint Laurent Tribute platform sandals."

  • Craig Tessler

    Tessler's client Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting signed one of the year's highest-profile deals in August: a new contract that secured the Big Bang Theory actress about $1 million an episode of the hit series. "It is refreshing to partner with someone that both you and your clients trust so implicitly," says Cuoco-Sweeting's manager, Andrea Pett-Joseph. Tessler also handles Tom Cruise, whose finances he helped divide in the star's 2012 divorce. His expertise extends to areas like foreign tax laws for overseas film productions, says lawyer Matt Galsor, with whom he shares clients. Says Galsor, "I think he's one of the sharpest business managers in town right now."