Wissman says he bought IMG Artists for one simple reason: “I am a huge fan of the classical music world and a passionate lover of the arts in general. In fact, I love it almost too much. I don’t get to play concerts anymore because I’m a perfectionist. A concert takes me three months of work, and I don’t have time.” He adds, “I was never a genius, but I was considered a fine musician.”
There is no disagreement about his talent. “He plays quite well,” Joshua Bell says. Moreover, says former IMG senior vp Alec Treuhaft, Wissman has a discerning ear – a useful quality in the co-owner of a talent agency. Sobol adds, “Despite everything Barrett put us through” with the pension fund scandal, “he always cared about the music. He loves the artists for their artistry. In my mind, that's his redeeming quality.”
Wissman lost points with the staff for having what was perceived as an inflated sense of himself. Some say it’s an attribute that he and Shustorovich shared, making their eventual clash inevitable. Wissman's godmother, Rachelle Klepak, since deceased, told D Magazine in 2009, “There was something that made him feel that he was better than everybody else, smarter, more talented.” Wray Armstrong, a former department head for IMG in London, found Wissman’s ego hard to take. At a concert at the Great Hall of the People for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, “Barrett tried to force himself backstage,” recalls Armstrong. “He was shoving the guards, saying, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ Of course, they didn’t.”
The pension fund scandal humbled Wissman. Embarrassing details kept emerging, such as Wissman rewarding a co-conspirator by investing in his movie project, a low-budget comedy called Chooch – Italian for “jackass” – which featured a slapstick donkey ride and a romance in a Mexican brothel. The scheme’s alleged mastermind, Hank Morris, a powerful consultant to the New York state comptroller, ended up serving over a year in the state penitentiary. In a closed hearing on Feb. 3, 2009, Wissman pleaded guilty to one felony and one misdemeanor. Judge Lewis Bart Stone admonished him that unless he cooperated fully with ongoing cases and paid the negotiated $12 million settlement, “all bets are off,” and he could expect to do time. Three and a half years later, Stone permitted Wissman to withdraw his felony plea, and he walked out of court a free man convicted only of a misdemeanor.
The public relations problem that resulted from Wissman’s conviction was addressed in June 2009, two months after the scandal broke, when Charles Hamlen, who had left IMG in 1993 to start an AIDS charity, was brought back as chairman. (Edna Landau had voluntarily retired in 2007.) Hamlen’s appointment was a cosmetic move — Wissman retained control of the agency — and did not last long. In October 2011, Wissman announced he was returning as chairman.
Just five months earlier, a reluctant Wissman had sold a minority position in IMG to Shustorovich at a deal-closing in Rome, Italy. “I had previously said no to him several times,” Wissman says.
Shustorovich says his investment in IMG grew out of his decision, in 2007, to finance the Metropolitan Opera’s revival production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace. As a consequence of his gift, his mother, Maria, served on the Met’s board of advisory directors for four seasons – an apotheosis for an opera lover. Shustorovich considered it payback for his parents taking him to concerts as a child. “I never went to music school, and I don’t play any instruments,” he says. “My parents were the people who put this appreciation of music in me.”
His patronage led to him meeting the female lead of War and Peace, soprano Anna Netrebko, then an IMG client. Through Netrebko, he met her manager, Jeffrey Vanderveen. In 2009, Shustorovich says, “Jeffrey asked for a lunch with me. He saw me as a guy putting money behind culture, and he said, ‘There’s a chaotic situation at IMG, with Barrett and all his financial issues, and the company is not doing well.’ He told me royalties to artists weren’t being paid, which was outrageous. He said, ‘IMG’s got a unique position in the market, and it can fail if somebody doesn’t come in and sort things out’.”