Ellen DeGeneres' Business Manager: "With Great Wealth Comes More Responsibility"

Danny Moloshok/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images
From left: Harley Neuman, Mel Brooks and Emma Roberts at the 2015 Emmys.

"Celebrity capital has become so valuable," says Harley Neuman, the man holding the purse strings for Ryan Murphy, helping Scarlett Johansson launch her cosmetics company and paving DeGeneres' path to mogul status, one deal at a time.

When Scarlett Johansson decided to launch a cosmetics company, she turned to Harley Neuman for advice. Likewise Zoe Saldana when she started up her Latin media platform. And Ellen DeGeneres when she began her homeware label.

These days, Neuman, 59, isn't just managing his clients' super-sized incomes — though that's definitely still part of the job — he's also helping them become mini-moguls running their own cottage industries, not to mention guiding their investments in other startups. "Celebrity capital has become so valuable that the highest-profile people are being approached to invest in Uber or to help attract users to Pinterest," says the veteran manager who's been representing A-listers for more than three decades.

Even Neuman's more traditional managerial duties have become more complicated in recent times, as paydays have grown to astronomical proportions, like when client Ryan Murphy raked in a reported $300 million from his overall deal at Netflix. "With great wealth comes more responsibility," Neuman says, paraphrasing Spider-Man. "The taxes involved, especially with the crazy changes made by Congress last December, are more complicated. How do we shield as much as possible from losses? We're looking much further into the future."

As for his past, it's something of an accident that Neuman got into business management in the first place; growing up in Los Angeles, he wanted to be a doctor, but was so bad at high school chemistry he had to rethink his plans. Instead, his CPA father talked him into taking an accounting class. "It was like a fish jumping into water," Neuman says of how he took to numbers.

Neuman’s serendipitous streak continued in the mid-’80s while he was working at multinational accounting juggernaut Deloitte, which somehow hadn’t yet ventured into entertainment. Neuman started their practice and carved out a niche for himself — all while helping Dad file tax returns for clients on the side

He decided he liked business management better than his day job and quit to open his own shop in 1991, quickly becoming one of L.A.'s go-to money managers. "My wife and I fear him like a 'money managing father,' but we love and trust him with our lives," says Anthony E. Zuiker, creator of the CSI franchise. Neuman's best advice to Zuiker: "When you are shopping for Cadillacs, don't go shopping for the Bentley because you'll always want the Bentley."

Neuman's clients don't always agree on how funny he is — Melissa Etheridge says "he's straitlaced, that's what you want in a manager" — but they are all on the same page when it comes to his integrity. "I can always count on Harley to be fair-minded," says Johansson, who's been a client for 15 years. "He considers everyone's point of view and how decisions affect the larger whole."

Adds Etheridge, who hired Neuman about a decade ago, after he came highly recommended by DeGeneres, “He’s all heart. He understands my life. He doesn’t let my whims get me into trouble.” 

That's a pretty important characteristic for anybody handling other people's money — and it's one of the reasons THR is naming Neuman its first Business Manager Icon.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.