THR's third annual lists highlights the top 25 moneymen and women who handle the finances of Hollywood stars.
It’s not a word often heard by A-list talent. But last year, New York-based business manager Evan Bell says he “begged and pleaded” when client Steven Soderbergh came to him and wanted to pour his savings into the development of a movie. The plan, explained Bell, would violate the cardinal rule of Hollywood: Never spend your own money. But Soderbergh didn’t listen. He split the $6.5 million production budget with star-producer Channing Tatum, and the movie, Magic Mike, went on to gross more than $150 million globally this summer. “I looked foolish once again,” jokes Bell.
Such is the tricky relationship Hollywood’s top money managers have with clients whose careers are built on taking creative and, at times, financial risks. Often the voice of reason or devil’s advocate on a star’s team of representatives, the top business managers say it’s better to appear too cautious than to explain an investment strategy that didn’t turn out well.
Some in Hollywood might fancy themselves the next Ashton Kutcher, who made a killing when he invested in Skype, or Justin Timberlake, who has done well in the tech space. But there are horror stories, too. U2’s Bono, who co-founded Elevation Partners, plowed $460 million into mobile device maker Palm before it hit trouble and $300 million into Forbes despite the tough advertising market. And even though he is in the black thanks to an early investment in Facebook, now that the company’s stock is sinking, one financial website dubbed the singer “the worst investor in America.”
Bono has competition on that front. Bell says he has a client who had made four terrible investments before signing with him. “‘Why go into that fourth?’” Bell recalls asking somewhat incredulously. “He answered, ‘Statistically, I thought I had this one.’ He was serious.”
Business managers say entertainment clients present special challenges. Projecting a steady revenue stream is never wise, given the fickle nature of the business. So in choosing between high-risk, great-upside plays and low-risk, steady-reward moves, they’ll typically opt for a more conservative approach. “You don’t lose a client because you’re only making a 1 percent return,” says business manager Scott Feinstein. “on the other hand, if you start losing, you’ll hear about it.”
Feinstein, who reps Taylor Lautner, Mila Kunis and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, says a good money manager doesn’t mind getting screamed at by clients. Requests to invest in restaurants are common, he says. But beware Burt Reynolds, Feinstein tells his clients, noting that the actor once went bankrupt after investing $15 million in the PoFolks restaurant chain. Similarly, Eva Longoria’s Vegas steakhouse Beso was shuttered this year. Feinstein struggles to win arguments over these types of investments because entertainers are optimists by psychological disposition — “maybe because they are used to having doors closed in their face every day,” he says.
In assembling a star’s portfolio, Feinstein likes to allocate no more than 50 percent in stocks and bonds, supplemented by the least sexy mutual funds imaginable. In addition, some stars might be surprised they are the proud owners of apartment buildings in such obscure locales as the San Fernando Valley. For some of his wealthier clients, Feinstein has also invested in private equity firms like the Blackstone Group.
Alan Goldman at Goldman & Knell says he divides up money between assets that will pay out dividends on a regular basis and wealth managers who can invest with an eye toward the long term. Those long-term assets include things like retail shopping centers, warehouses and business parks. But Goldman says he doesn’t recommend his actors and directors hold individual rental units because “being someone’s landlord is not some- thing that many people are comfortable doing.”
Bell, whose clients include Bill O’Reilly and Amanda Seyfried, sets up limited partnerships, investing in properties like apartment buildings in Manhattan’s East Village. Other business managers don’t like to pool investments, but they have ways of sharing the upside. “We do not recommend a real estate deal that we do not ourselves invest in,” says Michael Karlin. “A partner here will participate pro rata to the investor.”
Some celebrity investments are more splashy. Leonardo DiCaprio put $4 million into Mobli, a photo-sharing startup. Lady Gaga sank millions into a social network for celebs like herself. Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas has taken equity in a low-calorie vodka company. Perhaps the latest poster child for celebrity investor is Justin Bieber, who holds significant shares in a dozen companies including Spotify. But not even the celebrity association of Biebermania could help drive oPMG — a software company that disables text-messaging while driving — into anything more than just a penny stock.
Top money managers typically charge clients 5 percent of their earnings — similar to the fees entertainment lawyers charge — but they don’t take extra commissions if investments deliver big returns. When sitting down with a star client, they first ask detailed financial questions, figure out the person’s possible career trajectory, and arrive at what the investment risk tolerance should be. The truth is, despite the glamour, Hollywood as a class tends to be some of the most conservative investors on the planet — thanks in part to business managers. “Today it’s about protecting the principal,” says Karlin. “These clients take risks in their day-to-day profession. That’s where the risk is. Investments shouldn’t be risky.”
That’s not to say that celebrities don’t get some “play money” to chase dreams of becoming Hollywood’s next great venture capitalist. “Let’s call it the Las Vegas account,” Goldman says he tells clients. “Take all your stock tips and you can play.”
The 25 moneymen and women on THR's third annual list handle the finances, and sometimes financial misfortunes, of Hollywood stars who need help with everything from taxes to stocks to investments to chrome-plated electric cars.
Long considered among the very best Hollywood moneymen, Howard Altman is incredibly selective when choosing whether to take on a new client. Pretty much every A-lister he represents comes to him on referral, mostly from Hollywood’s top lawyers, who through the years have fed him a steady stream of big names including Naomi Watts, Jessica Alba, Ethan Hawke and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
He has managed his own firm since 1989, after working at the former accounting giant Arthur Andersen. Best known for understanding exactly how much gorgeous mansion his clients can afford, Altman offers a wide range of services that include making sure his clients are getting proper residuals and profit participation.
Even when he’s at a Hollywood movie premiere and mixing it up with big-name stars, Evan Bell — with his big brown hair and bushy mustache — stands out.
He spent time doing accounting work for large corporations before he got bored. So now he shuttles back and forth between the home office in New York and Los Angeles, working with
a diverse group of entertainers from such older media types as Bill O’Reilly and Marv Albert to younger ones such as Amanda Seyfried and Steven Soderbergh.
One of the toughest aspects of working with celebrities? “Honestly, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to look at a portfolio,” he says. On the other hand, his phone will ring off the hook any time the stock market has a particularly rough day. When that happens, he simply tells clients, “Go home and take a cold shower.”
Ever wondered who can possibly tell Angelina Jolie what to do? When it comes to financial decisions, Terry Bird has her attention. And as one of the rare women who manages the finances of top Hollywood stars, she has been instrumental in financial planning for actors like Matthew Broderick, purposely keeping her firm midsize so she can take a hands-on role with each of her clients.
The firm might not have as many partners as some of the others in Hollywood, but it’s what it does — like manage details on The Rolling Stones’ most recent concert tour — that counts.
In addition to standard money-management services, Andrew Crow touts a particular expertise in creating and maintaining nonprofit organizations for his do-gooder Hollywood clients.
For instance, Crow set up The Descendants actress (and client) Shailene Woodley’s environmental charity All It Takes, drafting governance documents as well as providing accounting and tax support (and hosting board meetings in his offices).
“That, in turn, saves the charity money, time and resources,” notes Crow. Other clients include recording artist David Foster and Friday Night Lights actress Adrianne Palicki.
Most business managers rely on agents and lawyers to feed them clients, but Scott Feinstein has cultivated his expanding network through word-of-mouth among Hollywood’s up-and-comers (including Twilight’s Taylor Lautner). This year, two of Feinstein’s clients, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family), won Emmys, while a third, Mayim Bialik, was nominated for The Big Bang Theory.
Feinstein says he loves sending e-mails to those whose finances he manages to nag them if they are spending too much. He calls it a “cover-your-ass letter.”
Richard Feldstein has one of the more impressive rosters of music clients: Madonna, Dr. Dre, Lenny Kravitz, Maroon 5 and guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, both formerly with Guns N’ Roses, are just a few.
Dad to Jonah Hill (see the resemblance?), Feldstein spends about four months a year at his firm’s New York office and the rest at the L.A. headquarters.
“I don’t know how you can handle some of these clients without having a presence” in both places, he says. “You have to be on the ground to know the [local] real estate laws.” Aside from work, his compulsion is to “fight to keep my waistline down.” He recently had his first session with a personal trainer.
Todd Gelfand runs the firm his father, Marshall, co-founded in 1967. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, the company was the “It” firm in music circles. These days, it has expanded from such rockers as Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond to A-list actors like Will Smith and sports superstars like Carmelo Anthony.
“We can facilitate all aspects of a client’s financial life, from managing a singer’s entire worldwide tour to negotiating a lease on the latest electric vehicle,” says Gelfand. The aggressive business manager is adventurous in his private life, too: A few years ago, he summited Mt. Kilimanjaro; now, he’s visiting every single Major League Baseball park with his youngest son — and he’s got 12 to go.
What started as a business management practice that attracted big music acts in the 1980s (Poison and Belinda Carlisle, to name a few) and then expanded to actors like Keanu Reeves now is growing once again with European imports such as Piers Morgan and horror director Mikael Hafstrom.
What Alan Goldman offers his clients is truly eclectic, from normal tax and accounting duties to such tasks as restructuring contracts and even overseeing litigation. “I quarterbacked a lawsuit for a client whose entire sound library was destroyed by a fire in the studio,” he says. The CPA worked with lawyers and insurers to deal with the mess and was able to recover $6.3 million in the case.
When it comes to unruly Hollywood clients who won’t curb their spending, Barry Greenfield isn’t shy about throwing down the hammer. “You bring them into the office, you sit them down, and you take their credit cards away. Seriously!” he laughs.
Aside from harsh circumstances, however, the Los Angeles-based business manager’s philosophy is to give his clientele — which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Steve Martin, Ashton Kutcher and Annette Bening — the proper advice and hope they make the right decisions. “Why else do we have them in our life if they’re not going to listen to us?” he says. His duties also extend outside the typical job requirement: A traveling client once called in the middle of the night to tell him he thought he left his refrigerator open.
Along with such business managers as Mary Ann McCready (Keith Urban, Kelly Clarkson) and Gary Haber (Carrie Underwood), the Nashville-based Al Hagaman and his firm represent tons of country music clients, from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill to the Dixie Chicks, Trace Adkins and Emmylou Harris, according to sources. (Hagaman declined to speak with THR.)
The specialty requires an intimate knowledge of recording contracts and royalty revenue calculations.
Michael Kaplan’s firm manages about 6,000 clients through offices in Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Given that deep client roster of directors, producers, writers and several top music industry players, it might seem difficult to service them all.
But Kaplan insists he takes a handson approach. “I like to spend time with them discussing exactly what we’re doing,” he says. That philosophy means that while clients are handing over their finances to be dealt with, Kaplan includes them in the management decision-making process as much as possible. “I want them to be aware of how I’m dealing with it for them.”
Michael Karlin co-founded one of the largest business management companies in Hollywood, representing longtime music clients like Van Halen and film-television clients like Joan Rivers. His 200-person firm still is growing, but with director and actors fees being cut and the music business challenged, this hasn’t been the easiest time to procure new clients. “Not everyone can afford a full-time business manager these days,” he says.
One of the ways his firm keeps expanding is by reaching out to execs and athletes who might appreciate rock-star financial treatment — ranging from simple tasks like paying bills to more complex responsibilities such as responding to life-threatening emergencies like when the roof of a client’s home collapses (which, yes, has happened).
Gary Kress is a secretive guy. So secretive that he refused to talk to THR for his profile, which is why we need to repeat the only known anecdote about Kress and his celebrity connections that we know — the time he enlisted the help of client Matt Damon and friend Mel Gibson to help Haitians.
This year, THR can reveal that Kress’ company employs as many as 19 people who generate as much as $2.5 million in sales annually, according to Business.com and that Kress’ clients allegedly include David Schwimmer, Ben Affleck and Denzel Washington — though Kress would not confirm or deny any of that, of course.
“I have one very successful entertainment client who told me, ‘Next to my shrink, you’re my most trusted adviser,’ and that kind of summarizes what we do,” says Steve Levitt, whose clients include actors, writers and producers as well as several executives, agents and lawyers.
He says he abides by a simple strategy for investments: “The unusual ones tend to be the money losers. Restaurants sound fun until the money is gone.” What’s occupying much of Levitt’s time nowadays is the “fiscal cliff,” shorthand for the expiration of the George W. Bush tax cuts. “Those rates expire at the end of the year, and Congress has done nothing to extend them or enact new tax laws,” he says. “Surprisingly, many people in Hollywood focus a lot on taxes.
After paying their agent, lawyer and business manager, they realize their tax bill is a big number. My job is to make sure there are no surprises.”
When Matt Lichtenberg ventured into entertainment business management in 1981, he spent far too many late nights at the Improv and Saturdays on set at Saturday Night Live. But he has developed a specialty representing top comedy clients such as Larry David and Will Ferrell.
By 2007, when he joined Level Four, he had extended beyond comedy, representing such bands as Smashing Pumpkins and Limp Bizkit. Still, nothing prepared him for a 2 a.m. call this past summer when he learned client Michael Clarke Duncan had experienced a heart attack. Even more shocking was the next call from Duncan’s lawyer revealing that the actor had secretly given Lichtenberg medical power of attorney.
“The next thing I know, for the next six weeks, I was solely responsible for every medical decision, from do-not-resuscitate issues, to keeping things out of the press, to eventually arranging the funeral” when Duncan died in September. “Not one of the fun jobs of a business manager.”
"Those days of working your whole life, retiring and living off the interest are over," says McIlwee. "I want people to spend money in a way to be solvent until 100 years old." Based on some of McIlwee's clients, including Kurt Russell, Selma Blair, David Arquette, Twilight's Valorie Curry and "weirdly, this influx of 20-somethings on hit shows," he may be in business for the long haul.
"These kids have done the right thing by incorporating, but no one educated them on what to do next, so some have gotten into payroll and other messy situations. We swooped in and cleaned them up."
In late October, Andrew Meyer and his partner are moving their office from Santa Monica to a 10,000-square-foot space in Beverly Hills, in part to be closer to their clients, including cast members of the Twilight films and TV series True Blood and The Office.
“The Westside used to be the destination, but the value for the money in real estate is significantly better in the Hollywood Hills and Los Feliz,” says Meyer. “Our relatively young client base is gravitating east.”
Also keeping him occupied this year are the tax implications for actors who live in California but are shooting out of state: “We look at the real-dollar amount they’ll be compensated after looking at regional taxes.”
“It’s been a year of people thinking out of the box,” says Julie Miller, whose firm specializes in Hollywood writer-producers, among others. She won’t reveal clients but notes that many are looking at different opportunities “because they know traditional moviemaking is changing.”
Still, much of Miller’s work during the past year has been about purchasing good old-fashioned real estate, including a $20 million residence for another A-lister.
Fred Nigro co-founded his firm in 1981 and has shepherded it through more than three decades of growth. The company now has a stable of about 500 clients. Nigro’s best-known client is David Letterman — though he is loath to name others. “They either want you 100 percent of the time working on their affairs or get very jealous if they think you are not looking after their affairs — that’s why business managers don’t get out there,” he explains.
Nigro says his firm’s sports practice is expanding rapidly. Athletes account for about 20 percent of its client base, whereas they were “barely on the radar” a decade ago. “Athletes only in the last 10 years have started to make really significant money like they do now,” he says.
Bob Philpott founded his namesake company in 1984 and preaches a steady and conservative approach to investing. It’s a strategy that has allowed him to expand his firm to about 60 employees representing about 130 clients, including superproducers Dick Wolf, Brian Grazer and Jerry Bruckheimer as well as Michael J. Fox.
Philpott, for example, advocates investment in short- to medium-term municipal bonds. “Despite all the headlines and all the craziness, that is the one asset class that has worked from 2007 until now,” he says. And he maintains a “thoushalt not” list — on it are investing in things like nightclubs and restaurants.
“For every five successes, there are 10,000 failures,” says Philpott. “We would typically say: ‘If all you want to do is buy yourself a table and do something with a friend, then fine, make the minimum investment. But we have to assume you are going to lose your money.’ ” But even Philpott has broken his own rule, investing in an outpost of Sushi Roku in Las Vegas: “I haven’t failed yet — it is still hanging in there.”
Brad Ross, whose clients include Matt LeBlanc and directors Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, prefers conservative investments. “Our goal is to beat inflation by a couple of points,” he says, adding that real estate is a popular purchase. Still, he’ll “take a flier” when clients are passionate, as when one tried to take advantage of the energy beverage craze by creating a “relaxing drink” or when another tried to create a customized disaster-supplies business.
He also has been known to help clients acquire and insure collectibles including antique pens, first-edition books, rare coins and even some Andy Warhol paintings one client obtained from the artist himself. Says Ross, “Our motto: Live for today while you plan for tomorrow.”
The second generation of Hollywood business managers in his family (he joined his father’s company during the mid- 1990s), Steve Savitsky and his boutique firm maintain clients in the music, film, TV and sports industries. What bonds his clients is a conservative approach to investments — and a charitable streak (Savitsky himself raises money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation).
With about 25 employees, Rick Schenkel’s firm reps individuals and companies, provides traditional accounting and tax services and also works with investment pros. One longtime client is UTA, which Schenkel has advised since it started with one agent and a handful of clients.
He also is active in the Water Buffalo Club, which has supported more than 100 Los Angeles charities that help underprivileged children with gifts for one-time capital expenditures. One of its fund-raising events is Christmas in July, where families mix with about 200 inner-city kids at the Santa Monica Pier and everybody goes home with gifts and school supplies.
Representing actors, performers, entertainment executives and a large number of musicians, Mickey Segal’s firm has increased its revenue by 70 percent during the past five years. He reps about 40 pro athletes, including new L.A. Laker Dwight Howard.
Segal says he tries to explain to clients how he has seen firsthand that success doesn’t last forever. “They need to be careful how they spend and plan for the future so they are financially secure when and if the good times aren’t around anymore,” he says. Segal also is active in local government in Arcadia, Calif., and says he has helped raise more than $100 million for charities.
In 2009, the Atlantabased Solomon Smallwood met Justin Bieber through his relationship with Bieber’s mentor, Usher. Smallwood was invited to sit down and chat with manager Scooter Braun and Bieber’s mom, Pattie. “This was before Justin Bieber became Justin Bieber, remember,” recalls Smallwood. “The relationship has really grown since then. I’m the financial component of what we call Team Sexy.”
That team has generated millions for the teen singing sensation, requiring Smallwood, who also reps Chris Brown and Jermaine Dupri, to allocate a big chunk of his time to securing the Biebs’ future. “My firm’s philosophy is rooted in education,” he says. “Many clients abandoned college and sacrificed that for their career, and all of a sudden they’re thrust into the spotlight. I’ve worked with clients who had never had a checking account before, and now they’re making millions of dollars. It would be overwhelming even for mature, educated individuals, but I find that when you undertake the education process with them, it makes it palatable for them.”
Smallwood says he looks for investment opportunities that will generate passive income long after an artist’s touring and recording days are over. “And also a revenue stream for their descendants,” he says, “things that will be around long after Justin is gone.”