UTA Hires Top Investment Banker to Explore Finance Options

Ken Moelis - P 2013
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UPDATED: Sources say Ken Moelis's firm is advising the agency in the wake of outside investment deals done by rivals CAA and WME.

United Talent Agency has engaged a top Wall Street banker to help evaluate investment offers in the wake of the sale of minority interests in its two larger competitors.

UTA declined to comment, but sources confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the Beverly Hills-based agency is working with Moelis & Company, to possibly take on a financial partner. A source said that UTA is not aggressively seeking capital but has been approached by several suitors and would consider selling a stake in the agency if the arrangement fits its growth strategy.

Ken Moelis is the CEO of the firm but the lead banker on any UTA deal would be Navid Mahmoodzadegan, who is a managing director and was one of the founding partners along with Moelis about six years ago. Mahmoodzadegan previously worked with Moelis at DLJ and at UBS. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has a law degree from Harvard. 

Mahmoodzadegan has been involved in a number of entertainment industry deals in recent years, including the sale of Univision, the restructuring of Metro Goldwyn Mayer and the sale of most of TV Guide to CBS Inc. (in a continuing partnership with Lionsgate). 

A source said there is no time frame to do a deal and that they are looking at all the options, including recent deals involving other agencies. 

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The move by the privately held 22-year-old agency comes in the wake of two major deals by its larger rivals CAA and William Morris Endeavor.

In October 2010, CAA sold a reported 35 percent stake to TPG Capital, a buyout firm that has invested in a number of businesses, including Harrah’s Entertainment. The New York Times reported that the deal called for CAA and TPG to create a $500 million investment fund in an arrangement that valued CAA at around $700 million.

In May 2012, WME sold a reported 31 percent share of the agency to Silver Lake Partners, a private equity firm based in Palo Alto and known for high-profile technology deals.

Both agencies cited growth plans as the reason for taking on financial partners. CAA has since expanded its business via investments in sports, fashion and digital (among others), and its top partners are said to have cashed out a portion of the investment themselves. WME also has helped back several startup companies. UTA could be eyeing the same strategy.

With about 125 agents in Beverly Hills and New York, UTA boasts clients such as actors Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow and Channing Tatum as well as producer-filmmaker Judd Apatow, Modern Family showrunner Steve Levitan and the Coen brothers, among many others. Key executives at UTA include CEO Jeremy Zimmer, chairman Jim Berkus, managing directors Jay Sures and David Kramer and board members Peter Benedek and Tracey Jacobs.

Moelis, 55, has been among the most successful investment bankers for three decades, enabling dozens of deals for big companies like Hilton Hotels, Anheuser-Busch, Gillette, Dubai World, Yahoo! and MGM Mirage.

The press-shy Moelis did not respond to a request for comment.

Moelis began his career at Drexel Burnham Lambert in its heyday and later worked at buyout firm Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette and Swiss investment bank UBS before starting his own firm, Moelis & Company, in 2007.

Moelis & Company has offices in New York, Los Angeles and a dozen other cities, with more than 600 employees.

Moelis is well known among the nation’s richest individuals, many of whom are or have been clients or have been on the other side of his deals, including Steve Wynn, John Kluge, Donald Trump, Carl Icahn and Sam Zell.

“He’s like an old-time investment banker,” former Hilton Hotels CEO Stephen Bollenbach told the L.A. Times in 2008, a year after Moelis engineered the sale of the Hilton chain to Blackstone Group for $26.2 billion. “You can actually trust him to give you an honest judgment, not just what’s in his best interest.”

Moelis has said in interviews that he is interested in West Coast companies in what he calls the “middle market” -- those with annual sales from $200 million to $2 billion. Those are companies he feels have not always gotten the attention they deserve from the big banks in New York.