Twenty business managers to bank on
Bell & Co.
Bell prides himself on saying no to clients. "It's almost a badge of honor for us," he jokes. "I'm the daddy." A one-time commercial accountant, Bell broke out on his own in 1985 after a local New York TV news anchor asked him to handle his personal finances. He now reps East Coast media types like Bill O'Reilly, as well as Steven Soderbergh and Amanda Seyfried, and -- unlike many ultra-private business managers -- he's not afraid to go on TV himself, including on CNN and ABC.
Macias Gini & O'Connell
Fox went into the personal management business in 1970 because he didn't want to cut his hair. Back then, the biggest accounting firms were staffed with clean-cut individuals, and Fox felt he didn't belong. So he joined accountant Arnold Bernstein and began landing entertainment work after catching another business manager stealing from clients. Fox has never forgotten the lessons from those early days. "Make a mistake and your reputation is ruined," he warns.
Gelfand Rennert & Feldman
Gelfand is a part of one of the biggest and oldest business management firms in the U.S., having amassed 225 employees and a deep client roster since launching in 1976. He is strong in film and television but the firm is a particular force in representing musicians, administering the finances involved in touring, song catalogs and accounting for record royalties. "Business managers are one of the few advisers trying to give clients statistical, quantifiable notions of their career," he says. Since Gelfand's mother died in 2004, he's also been active in supporting Alzheimer's research, climbing Kilimanjaro to raise money.
Goldman & Knell
Goldman learned the game during the '80s repping such hot music acts as Poison and Belinda Carlisle, teaming with Paul Knell in 1994 to form a two-man shop built on an unapologetically conservative philosophy. "We never get into any creative choices," says the UCLA basketball superfan, who now reps top-earning actors like Keanu Reeves. "But if a client is choosing between two movies, we explain the financial ramifications of those choices."
Gettleson Witzer & O'Connor
Gettleson signed his first clients, illusionists Siegfried and Roy, more than 25 years ago, helping the duo launch their game-changing show at the Mirage. "At that time, it was a very unique structure, but that structure has now become a standard for Vegas shows," Gettleson says. He's now a fixture on the Vegas scene and helps run one of LA's top business management firms. Lately he's been adding restaurateurs to his clientele "because today's chef is as much a celebrity and brand as any entertainer."
Altman Greenfield & Selvaggi
Those who monitor expensive real estate and rare cars in the Los Angeles area know Greenfield's name. He is particularly adept at helping clients score exclusive mansions and exotic objects like a flint mica Lexus SUV hybrid, a recent find. Starting in the early 1980s, he and his firm are now up to nearly 150 clients. The one thing that's out of bounds? Airplane tickets. "I had to send a memo out to the office to draw a line," he says. "If clients want to book travel, they'll have to use a travel agent."
Miller Kaplan Arase & Co.
Kaplan grew up immersed in Hollywood accounting thanks to his father, Mannon Kaplan, who is still the managing partner at the firm. He learned that representing celebrities means taking precautions, like buying excess liability insurance. "I explain to them: 'You're a high-profile person, if you have some type of car accident, they're going to go after you because they'll know what you're worth,' " he says. "You don't want a situation where all of a sudden your assets go from $20 million down to $2 million. You need that excess liability so that it doesn't come from your assets."
Nigro Karlin Segal & Feldstein
Karlin co-founded perhaps the largest business management firm in Hollywood, and he was at the forefront of pushing the field from its tax and accounting base to a much broader service industry. For example, a few years ago, a client drove her car into the garage of her home and the roof collapsed. "She called us from the car," he says. "We're the ones who called the ambulance. Our next call was to the contractor to make sure to shore up the beams."
Laura Lizer & Associates
Lizer parlayed her first client, director-stuntman Hal Needham, into a bustilng little Hollywood firm, which now reps Sidney Poitier, Shirley MacLaine, Jackie Collins and execs like NBC's Angela Bromstad. The former bookkeeper never became a CPA (she outsources accounting work), instead winning clients by customizing financial plans to specific lifestyles. "Hal Needham loved stock car racing, so I had to figure out how to make this into a money-making operation, which I did," she recalls. "He bought a team, and when he got rid of it in 10 or 12 years, he actually made money."
Tanner Mainstain Blatt & Glynn
Mainstain founded his firm in 1975 while still in his 20s. His first two clients -- then-stand-up comics Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses -- are still with him, as are filmmakers like Ron Shelton (30 years) and personalities like former swimsuit model Kathy Ireland (since she was 19). Mainstain says he isn't afraid to stand up to a client who questions his advice. Back in 1993, for instance, a new client initially fought him when he recommended earthquake insurance. "Four months later, the '94 earthquake hit," he recalls. "They made one premium payment and got a $250,000 recovery."
Miller Tax & Accounting
"I've bailed people out of jail and delivered money at weird times of night to weird places," Miller says. So why do stars in trouble call the business manager first? "We have all the information and access to their accounts," she says. "Their agents and lawyers may know what they make, but we are the only ones who know not just what they make but what they spend and what they spend it on."
Nigro Karlin Segal & Feldstein
Nigro is a U.S. Navy veteran who spent 14 months in Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. So Hollywood battles have been a piece of cake. He helped advise David Letterman when he made his big switch from NBC to CBS, was there when a man attempted to kidnap Letterman's son, dealt with a stalker and, most recently, helped resolve trouble with a blackmailer. "Everyone thinks we do tax returns," he says. "I haven't done one of those in 30 years. This business is all about relationships."
Philpott Bills Stoll & Meeks
A former Marine, Philpott started in the audit division of then-Price Waterhouse before joining Gary Kress and Brian Murphy at a small firm, which broke up in 1984 after one of the partners fell in love with an actress client. He formed a new firm with a partner who repped such '80s A-listers as Richard Pryor and Tom Selleck, and when that partner got sick of bookkeeping, Philpott was handed a premium clientele, which he grew to about 120 clients today. "Some of my clients have been around for 30 years," he says. "This is a business where you can manage someone from the cradle to the grave."
Level Four Business Management
Rigney, a three-decade vet whose clients include Quentin Tarantino, has three big financial no-nos: buying airplanes, investing in restaurants and getting married without a pre-nup. Then again, when a client a while back was adamant about purchasing a private jet, Rigney immersed himself in learning everything he could about aviation, including taking flying lessons. "A couple years later when the client finally bought the airplane, I knew a lot more about it than he did," he says.
Savitsky Satin & Bacon
Savitsky is the second generation in a business management family, and initially he wasn't sure whether he wanted to follow his father into the field. During the mid-'90s, though, he finally decided to team with his dad. These days, Savitsky can afford to be selective with his clients, often passing on those who like to be aggressive on taxes or take too much risk in their investment portfolio. "If we encounter situations where we are at conflict with clients, they immediately become not a good fit," he says.
With her keen knowledge of foreign tax laws, Savoie's clients tend to be those who perform around the world. "The IRS is getting better at targeting foreigners who come in to work in the U.S. and then don't pay U.S. taxes," she says. "They use Google to locate them, flag their passports and have them thrown in jail." Unlike business managers at smaller firms, Savoie can take advantage of Deloitte's 165,000 employees and offices in 140 cities worldwide. Like the time a U.S. production company was shooting in Eastern Europe and couldn't pay the locals because its bank put a 30-day hold on cash. "We contacted our local Deloitte person, who walked over to the bank and got the hold lifted," Savoie recalls.
Nigro Karlin Segal & Feldstein
With a background in forensic accounting, Segal handles both traditional business manager work and directs his firm's specialized auditing practice. "If you represent Al Pacino, you want to make sure he's getting all the money he's due," he says. The firm's big break came during the early '80s when it won a lucrative account managing the WGA's pension plan, which opened the door to high-earning talent. Fun fact: Segal has served as mayor of Arcadia, Calif. -- twice.
Altman Greenfield & Selvaggi
"Numbers speak to me like music speaks to others," says Selvaggi, who started his firm with Abe Altman when he was just 26. Sarah Jessica Parker became Selvaggi's first client after she starred on "Square Pegs" and is still with him, as are Anne Hathaway, Jimmy Fallon and "White Collar" star Matt Bomer. The goal, he says, is to help clients feel that "they have someone in their lives who understands money so they can give up a certain amount of control over it while they go do what they do best." Yet he always encourages them to ask as many question as they want. "It's your money, so there are no dumb questions."
International Business Management
Edgar Gross, one of the town's first business managers, started the firm 45 years ago with clients like Sonny and Cher. But Stern is now its figurehead, overseeing about 80 clients, including Richard Gere and showrunner Max Mutchnick. Along with partners Britt Bates and Andrew Crow, he's not afraid to cut off a client's access to funds if he sees gross overspending. "A fish can only grow as big as a fishbowl," he says. "There's a key that will unlock a person's willingness to be rational. It's up to us to find that key."
Bruce Weber & Associates
"There's a special feeling about helping people achieve their goals," says Weber, who founded his firm 20 years ago and has maintained its family feel (daughter Marisa now works there). He takes an aggressive approach, asking high-earning clients to sock away 40%-45% of every dollar earned. "There are no guarantees in this business," he says.
Profiles by Matthew Belloni, Eriq Gardner and Zorianna Kit