UPDATE: It’s been a long, winding, and troubled road which began more than a year ago, but ICM President Chris Silbermann now has completed his management buyout – thus putting an official end to what was a destabilizing period for the agency. I can tell you that Jeff Berg, Chris Silbermann, Rick Levy and all the other bigwigs are giving up their titles at the new ‘ICM Partners’. In fact all 29 partners won’t have titles. The management buyout deal was finalized and signed late last night and presented to the staff first thing this morning. It’s the end of an agenting era: Chairman/CEO Berg has been the longest serving tenpercentery head in Hollywood – since 1978 when he was made ICM’s president. He will remain as an agent but surrender his management role in exchange for tens of millions of dollars over the next years. The tenpercentery is going to be 100% owned and operated by its agents after the buyout of Berg and ICM’s major investor, Connecticut-based Rizvi Traverse Management which has owned 40%. The pair sold their interest for a combination of cash, preferred non-voting shares, and an ongoing financial interest in certain assets of the agency. The official announcement just released says:
Reflecting the new, collaborative structure, the agency will be renamed ICM Partners. Representing a cross-section of the agency’s core departments – film, television, publishing and touring, those named to the partnership include 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, Chris Silbermann, Amanda Urban, Chris von Goetz, Joanne Wiles, and Eddy Yablans.
In a joint statement, the partnership said, “This is an important day for our clients and agents as we begin the transformation of ICM into ICM Partners. 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. ICM has a long and rich history of representing the most talented artists in the business and playing a key role in bringing to market some of the greatest films, television series, live events and books of all time. ICM Partners, now under the complete control of a partnership of agents, is committed to expanding the agency’s core businesses of film, television, publishing and live events for the benefit of clients and associates alike.”
Rizvi Traverse and Jeffrey Berg, former chairman and CEO of ICM, sold their ownership interest in ICM to the partnership, and neither will participate in the management of the agency or serve on the agency’s Board. The parties sold their interest for a combination of cash, preferred non-voting shares and an ongoing interest in certain assets of the company.
Rizvi Traverse made an investment in ICM in 2005. That investment allowed the agency to acquire the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency in 2006. Since that time, ICM has made a number of smaller but strategically successful acquisitions, and with the agency’s restructuring, the partnership will aggressively seek opportunities to expand all of the agency’s areas of business.
Rizvi Traverse stated, “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.”
Mr. Berg stated, “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. I look forward to working with the partners in representing artists in all areas of the company.”
Among the missing names is veteran talent agent Carol Bodie, who I’ve learned was not offered a partnership even though she represents the high-profile Jon Hamm. And I can tell you that Toni Howard is a partner is name only after she refused to take the management buyout’s pay cut now in order to reap its rewards years down the line. One ICM insider explains, “We had to make some tough decisions. This first group of partners is the start of a process. Over the course of time, we will make new partners.” But the situation is not without tension. I understand that some high-profile tenpercenters already are angry that they haven’t asked to be partners. So it’s a waiting game to see who stays and who goes. (I’ll report only confirmed names, not rumored.)
The big question now is how does ICM Partners get back on track. Once upon a time the perennial #2 tenpercentery, it’s Hollywood’s 4th ranking agency right now in terms of status and power. Its movie department has struggled publicly for some time. Its TV department this year and last year placed behind WME, CAA, and UTA in the numbers of major agency packages on new series ordered by the broadcast networks. Sure ICM reps packages from major network players like Chuck Lorre, Shonda Rhimes, and Mark Gordon. But, for awhile, a steady stream of ICM motion picture lit agents exited to UTA. (There was even an idea at one point taking shape within the Berg camp for ICM to merge with United Talent, but Silbermann opposed any merger talk.) More recently there’s been an exit of talent agents from ICM. A lot of PR needs to take place before the agency can regain the prestige it once enjoyed.
EXCLUSIVE: I’m hearing from inside ICM that there’s an all-company meeting now to announce the restructuring because the agency has finalized the deal for management to buy out investor Rizvi Traverse and longtime Chairman Jeff Berg. “The agency will be guided by a large partnership moving forward,” the insider tells me. The tenpercentery is going to be 100% owned and operated by its agents. Silbermann’s goal over the past year has been to take over the tenpercentery and obtain more ownership of the agency from its major investor Rizvi Traverse Management as well as Berg. After some very difficult months behind the scenes and then played out in public, Suhail Rizvi eventually decided to play ball with Silbermann’s demands — or face the threat that his senior TV agents might walk out of the tenpercentery. Assisting Silbermann in this power play was Rick Levy, ICM’s Chief Business Development Officer & General Counsel who was a longtime Berg confidante until this buyout plan was hatched. Berg’s ownership of ICM also is being bought out and he’ll reap tens of millions over the next years. He has been offered to continue at the agency
as Chairman Emeritus and will stay on repping clients.
Though there was friction between Berg and Silbermann beginning in April 2011, ICM’s crisis didn’t reach the implosion point until last November when Silbermann confided to senior staff that he was leaving with several key ICM execs and starting his own Hollywood TV agency. In no time the buzz was all over the tenpercentery. That also meant it reached the ears of Rizvi Traverse Management which since 2005 has owned a sizeable stake in the full-service ICM. Immediately, Suhail Rizvi personally confronted Silbermann and asked if the ICM No. 2 exec was leaving or not. Silbermann denied everything, claiming that he’d never said it, that it was just a rumor, and that he was going nowhere. But the fact is that, for months, Silbermann, the former Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency partner turned Berg heir apparent, has been loudly and regularly threatening to leave ICM unless he got what he wanted. Both agency chiefs had been seeking their own financing to buy out the other and take over the agency and reduce Rizvi’s stake. The infighting tore apart ICM internally to the point where Silbermann regularly called secret meetings and pointedly didn’t invite Berg. While Berg called secret meetings with Rizvi and pointedly didn’t invite Silbermann. At one point, Silbermann became enveloped in a paranoid panic, convinced that his ouster from ICM was imminent and orchestrated by Berg and Rizvi when it wasn’t. In fact Berg tried repeatedly to find a way for them all to continue to work together and appealed to Rizvi to calm the situation. For a long while, Rizvi was unwilling to take sides in the disputes.
Clients especially hated hearing about discord inside their tenpercentery, so rival agencies used the news of ICM’s internal strife to try to poach the most profitable talent. ICM makes money, a lot of it, mostly because its receivables date back more than 100 years. ICM was formed in 1975 through the merger of Creative Management Associates and International Famous Agency (which themselves were formed by agency mergers, and so on). In 2005, the company raised equity financing from Rizvi Traverse and institutional investors to fund strategic growth, and in 2006, ICM acquired the literary agency Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann.
ICM’s Chris Silbermann Nearly Completes Management Buyout
ICM Implosion Stopped: Silbermann Stays, Less Power For Berg
ICM Part 3: Agency Board & Rizvi Blow Off Silbermann’s Demands
ICM Part 2: Silbermann Forces Decision By Rizvi
ICM Imploding! Silbermann & Berg Battle For Control