Sam Gores, Chairman/CEO of Paradigm Talent Agency, on Leading Versus Bossing
The agency giant on the booming concert business, the art of the pitch and why being a leader is different (read: better) than being a boss.
Paradigm Talent Agency may be located in the former Beverly Hills campus of MCA, where legendary entertainment moguls like Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman once walked tall, but the powerhouse agency’s chairman/CEO Sam Gores, 59, isn’t about looking back at the ghosts of yesteryear. Rather, he says, “I’m always focused on what I need to get done that day, that week, that year … Those things are staring me in the face.”
With more than 300 in his employ in eight offices -- in Beverly Hills; Manhattan; Monterey, Calif.; Nashville; Brooklyn; Austin; Hollywood; and London -- the Israel-born Gores, who launched his career as an agent in 1977 and first ventured out on his own with SGA Representation in 1986, knows all too well the daily task of pleasing audiences large and small. Through a series of expansions and mergers in film/TV and literary sectors, SGA grew into Paradigm, with Gores jumping into music in 2005 with the acquisition of Monterey Peninsula Artists (Dave Matthews Band, Aerosmith, Toby Keith) and later New York-based Little Big Man (Coldplay, The Fray). Other agencies, including AM Only (the pioneering EDM agency founded by Paul Morris) followed, and, most recently, Paradigm planted a flag in London with a 50 percent stake in 10-year-old independent Coda Music Agency. The Paradigm roster contains 1,000 bands and artists, including The Black Eyed Peas, Ed Sheeran, Fun, Janelle Monae and Jason Mraz. Gores’ mandate: Let music agents, led by Chip Hooper, “do what they do.” Paradigm, like other agencies, declined to release revenue figures, but industry estimates put Paradigm’s total revenue at $100 million per year.
A divorced father of three grown kids, Gores has two brothers, Tom and Alec, who are both billionaires -- the former founder of Platinum Equity and owner of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and their home arena, Michigan’s Palace of Auburn Hills; the latter a tech mogul who founded private equity firm Gores Group. Gores talks to Billboard about Paradigm’s rapid growth in the music sector, the art of the pitch and how synergies across platforms factor into Paradigm’s success.
Billboard: You have been called “the most un-agent agent in the business.” Is that a compliment?
Sam Gores: I think so. I don’t come across like I’m trying to hustle you or shove something down your throat -- what people think is the stereotypical agent. Integrity, rather than the show of it, is important to me -- to always try to do the right thing. And if I promise something, deliver on it.
Music agencies were consolidated under the Paradigm umbrella about 10 years ago. Has live music representation been somewhat of a learning curve for you?
Yes, on some level. But I instinctively knew a lot of it on another level. The companies and individuals [acquired] had different cultures, but were compatible. That’s the thing I’m most proud of: All these groups, although they worked differently, we let them retain their own personalities, but also integrate and embrace new ways. And all of these companies have done that. [For example], we’ve developed this incredible state-of-the-art cloud-based booking system that all the different companies use.
What makes a good acquisition or partnership target when looking to expand?
It starts with who’s in charge, who’s at the base or foundation. I don’t think we’ll ever make a deal with people who lack integrity or are not revered by the community in general, or who have a trail of bad history behind them. If it’s a good cultural fit, or if you think you can help them grow by having them be part of a bigger infrastructure and more access in areas of branding, film and television, then how does that complement the rest of our business in that area? For instance, Little Big Man and Monterey complemented each other -- Monterey had all the legacy artists and big bands and [LBM founder] Marty [Diamond] had all the cool stuff that was up-and-coming. That really rounded out our business.
What’s your secret to the art of the pitch?
(Laughs.) I’m not sure there’s any singular thing you can pull out of a hat. It’s a general set of values. There are companies that just want to make money, to be flashy and show up with large groups of people at every event. Our thing is, whether it’s a production company, a director or a musical artist, you guide them by steering them toward projects that reflect their greatest talents. I represented a television star in the early ’80s who got an offer for $2 million to do a series. That was a huge amount of money back then, and I was just starting my own business and desperately needed it, but I thought it would hurt his career. In the meantime, I could barely pay the rent. If you push that, 30 years later, you end up with a bunch of like-minded people who advise their clients that if they do the right thing, good things come from it.
How have some of the cross-department synergies played out?
We’re trying to develop a Broadway show with Sara Bareilles. Reeve Carney, who was the lead in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway, he bounces between the music and film/TV groups. [Agent] Joel Roman has done very well for us with certain clients writing theme songs for TV shows or movies. I just sold a pretty cool reality show that Fergie will produce and host, and … she’ll do voiceovers and animated movies, too. When she has wanted to make movies, she could, like 2009’s Nine. Mel B. is on America’s Got Talent …
Describe your management style.
I’m not a dictator. I want to be a good leader, not a good boss, necessarily. Sometimes a boss creates fear and a leader brings confidence. A boss sometimes points fingers or blames, where a leader tries to fix mistakes. A boss will come at you with all the answers, but a leader asks questions. Bosses can make drudgery, and leaders make things interesting. Bosses are interested in themselves, and leaders are interested in the group. I always try to err on the side of being more of a leader.
The concert business is robust right now. How long can that growth be sustained?
Live music will continue to grow -- it’s practically the center of gravity in the music business, and the Internet has made music artists a global phenomena. That’s why we’ve grown, and will continue to, aggressively in Europe. We’ve more than quadrupled, and honestly, there’s no stopping us because of our general philosophy and how many people we have on the higher end that know how to deal with the big transactions and have the respect and profile in the business.
Are film and TV on a similar path?
No, they’re not on a similar path. There was a time around 2008 and 2009 when we were all running scared thinking the television business was going to crumble, and instead it came back big-time and is doing very well. And the movie business has a little more to go, but I’m optimistic about the future there. It’s a matter of us all getting retrained on the how, when and where of watching movies. All that’s going to change over the next five to 10 years … and we’ll figure out how to replace the missing revenue from DVDs. As soon as the movies figure out the globe -- basically India, China and so on -- there’s a lot of opportunity.
What are the common threads in personal representation for film/TV, literary and music?
Coming from a passionate place. You have to love television shows or actors or writers or directors or musicians. I like to think we’re in the client business, not necessarily the agent business. I don’t think we’ve ever made a move that could be good for the agency but not good for the artist. We’ve never leveraged a client in that way.
What motivates you at this point?
I’m still hungry and want to do much more, but what gets me really excited is when the younger generation that has started with us becomes more significant and important. And, of course, my kids -- nothing would make me happier than to see them achieve way more than I did.