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With his puckish grin and twinkling eyes, Gary Haber was hardly the textbook bean counter or “Dr. No” business manager, constantly scrutinizing the bottom line and looking for ways to maximize the profit margin. The sole owner of the all-but-iconic Haber Corporation was as much an elder as an accountant, often referred to as “Uncle Gary” by longtime clients’ children.
Word of Haber’s death Monday night — from cancer, which few people knew he’d been battling — has been making the rounds among Los Angeles, Manhattan, Nashville and points between, leaving industry titans, from longtime Gold Mountain manager Burt Stein to power attorney Gary Gilbert, struggling for words.
After Haber established himself as a man who could balance the excessive spending of celebrities with a solid business model, stars began flocking to him; he established his Encino, Calif.-based company in 1977. A who’s who of roots music decorated his roster — John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Jim Lauderdale — and saw the imminent rise of a firm that employed nearly 100 people and established satellite offices in Nashville and the Loire Valley of France.
Recently named to The Hollywood Reporter’s 2013 list of Power Business Managers, the quixotic artist advocate has been known to bail clients out of jail, play advocate for both sides in divorce proceedings and figure out implosions in ways that protect his clients. As Grammy-winning songwriter-artist Rodney Crowell said upon hearing the news, “Now I have to grow up…Gary had taken care of everything for me for so long, he was my most successful and long-running business relationship. Literally, he was always there — and always knew what to do.”
Carrie Underwood, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lyle Lovett, Peter Frampton and Joe Cocker were among the celebrities who trusted the New York-born CPA with their money — and often their lives. When artists would find themselves in difficult straits due to overspending, the ravages of life or the wages of an industry not always stacked to their best interests, Haber would find ways to make ends meet until the equilibrium could be sorted.
And he never judged. Stories circulated at the end of the last century of the prostitutes who would present themselves at his Los Angeles office Monday morning, looking for their $250 payments. The working girls were paid and sent back into the world without feathers being ruffled.
Haber also was engaged in the world of the creatives: He helped establish the Nashville Screenwriters Conference and he also was a board member — and guiding hand — of the Alliance of Artists Recording Companies (AARC) and the Academy of Country Music (ACM).
“That was the beauty of Gary Haber,” says award-winning producer and Carnival Music Publishing owner Frank Liddell [Miranda Lambert, Chris Knight, Lee Ann Womack]. “He was just so curious and passionate about life. Yes, his business advice was always very measured and wise, but he believed in living life, exploring your passions — and very much trying to create your dreams instead of doing business. Haber is a big force behind Carnival….”
That unorthodox approach, as much heart as head, gave Haber the reputation as an artists’ true advocate, not just in terms of the dollars and cents, but investing in long-term career growth and making one’s family a priority. Investing in his clients’ lives made him more than the guy who cut the deals — and his death has left those whose lives he both touched and help order feeling slightly disoriented.
“I had no idea,” Crowell confessed when reached by phone. “The last time I saw him, we had one of those conversations that could have been a good-bye, but it was really about life — and where we were in it, what it all means. That was Gary: appreciate every moment, enjoy the great times. It sure felt like it that night.”
Gilbert, Entertainment Partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, feels the loss acutely. “We ran around everywhere together. He’d say, ‘Let’s go,’ and we did. Usually we’d be at the Academy of Country Music Awards, but this year — for the first time — we didn’t go. It’s a strange feeling.”
No doubt Haber Corporation, built on the principle of “people first,” will continue its hands-on, take-care-of-the-clients business as usual. It was how Haber built his company into the behemoth it is today.
Just as important, the people who worked with and for him will continue to celebrate an unorthodox way of doing business that remembers beyond celebrity, there is humanity. Gary Haber, always there with a giant smile on his face, would have wanted it that way.
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