ICM Finalizes Management Buyout; Partnership Excludes Former Chairman Jeff Berg

Chris Silberman Headshot 2011
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Chris Silberman

The agency, led by Chris Silbermann, is changing its name to ICM Partners after buying out majority owner Rizvi Traverse Management.

International Creative Management has finalized its deal to buy out majority owner Rizvi Traverse Management and has formed a new partnership structure for the agency, the company said Wednesday.

ICM will be renamed ICM Partners to reflect the changes. Control of the firm will now rest with its agents and executives. As part of the deal, Birmingham, Mich.-based private-equity firm Rizvi Traverse Management and Jeffrey Berg, former chairman and CEO of ICM, sold their ownership interest in ICM to the partnership. Berg will remain an agent with ICM. The deal was finalized May 22.

ICM's Chris Silbermann, formerly the agency's president, has long sought to transform the Century City-based firm into a partnership. He is a partner in the new firm but will relinquish the title of president; an ICM insider told The Hollywood Reporter that management would no longer use such titles.

The 29 members of the partnership represent the 150-agent ICM's core departments. The partners include Silbermann, Lorrie Bartlett, Bonnie Bernstein, Robert Broder, John Burnham, Ted Chervin, Nicole Clemens, Carter Cohn, Harley Copen, Kevin Crotty, Dan Donahue, Emile Gladstone, Mark Gordon, Sloan Harris, Paul Hook, Toni Howard, Chuck James, Michael Kagan, Steve Levine, Richard Levy, Greg Lipstone, Esther Newberg, Janet Carol Norton, Dar Rollins, Adam Schweitzer, Amanda Urban, Chris von Goetz, Joanne Wiles and Eddy Yablans.

"This is an important day for our clients and agents as we begin the transformation of ICM into ICM Partners," the partnership said in a statement. "Our mission remains to help our clients achieve their goals with the best, most strategic representation in the industry, while providing our fellow partners and associates with a culture of teamwork, collegiality and opportunity."

The deal was months in the making; ICM made an internal announcement Dec. 9 that it had reached an agreement in principle to convert the agency to a partnership and buy out Rizvi Traverse. 

Rizvi Traverse bought its controlling interest in ICM in 2005 for $75 million. The investment, coupled with financing from Merrill Lynch, laid the groundwork for ICM to acquire Silbermann and partners' Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency a year later. ICM, which has a client roster that includes Woody Allen, Chuck Lorre and Al Pacino, was the first major agency to sell a significant interest to a private-equity company. The agency's buyout of Rizvi Traverse comes three weeks after rival agency WME announced that it had sold a 31 percent noncontrolling stake in the agency to technology-centered private-equity firm Silver Lake. And in October 2010, CAA sold a 35 percent minority interest to TPG Capital in a deal valued at $500 million.

Rizvi Traverse, which is headed by press-shy financier Suhail Rizvi, and Berg no longer will participate in the management of the agency or serve on the agency’s board. The parties sold their interest in ICM for a combination of cash, preferred nonvoting shares and an ongoing interest in certain assets of the company. 

“This deal allows the next generation of leadership to participate in the success of the business, which is what we promised when we secured Rizvi Traverse as investors," Berg said. "I look forward to working with the partners in representing artists in all areas of the company.”

Rizvi, who co-founded his namesake firm and resides in Greenwich, Conn., is believed to have wrung a profit out of the investment his company made in ICM. However, sources say that he grew less interested in the long-term future of ICM after concluding that the agency would not provide him the platform to make a larger impact as an investor in media. But ICM sources have said that the agency played a role in arranging some of the entertainment-related investments that Rizvi Traverse has made, including a 2011 deal with Hugh Hefner to take Playboy Enterprises private.

Last year, sources told THR that Silbermann, Broder and Chervin had become frustrated with Rizvi because he had not nurtured ICM, instead focusing on cost savings. A 2006 Wall Street Journal story said, for instance, that soon after Rizvi Traverse purchased its stake, it ordered that ICM's flower budget be cut. 

"We congratulate the new partners of ICM and believe the transfer of ownership is the right direction for the agency and the appropriate conclusion to the investment made in 2005,” Rizvi Traverse said in a statement.

The ICM insider said that the company, founded in 1975, will look to expand by bringing in new partners from outside the agency and through promotions from within.

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller