With Her New Black Women-Led Management Firm, Ebonie Ward Is Being the Change She Wants to See
The 11th & Co chairwoman/CEO discusses how #MeToo and #TheShowMustBePaused inspired her "unorthodox" venture.
While working as a partner and manager at Emagen Entertainment Group, Ebonie Ward watched #MeToo gain momentum and #TheShowMustBePaused bring the music industry to a halt in the name of racial justice. In the wake of these movements, “there have been all these indications of putting women of color into leadership positions,” she says, but little in the way of sustained action.
“I’ve seen a lot of Black women, especially in hip-hop and R&B, who are the backbones at many companies. I’ve also seen a lot of women who are actually running these companies, but they’re still not the face,” adds the 2023 Women in Music honoree. “It was time to do something different.
“During COVID-19, I realized that I was limiting myself by not being forward-moving or thinking out of the box,” Ward recalls. So after five years at Emagen, she has opened the doors to her own full-service management firm, 11th & Co (pronounced “co”) — the first management company to be led entirely by women and, specifically, Black women.
In addition to Ward, who’s chairwoman/CEO, 11th & Co’s seven-member executive team includes CFO Alexandria Kindle, chief marketing officer Jenna Magee-Tyson, chief legal advisor Zita Brack, executive vp of lifestyle promotions Imaine Molo, executive vp of tour marketing Krishna Lee and head of A&R operations and administration Asha “DJ Osh” Holland.
“The one thing I love about the women on my team is that they’ve done a multitude of different things: from working in politics, finance, entertainment law and marketing to fashion, DJing, touring and restaurant ownership,” says Ward. “It was important to have a diverse group of experienced people who might not necessarily work with each other traditionally but would be able to come together and bring out the best in each other.”
Based in Atlanta and with plans to open a Los Angeles office, the 11th & Co roster includes Ward’s longtime clients Future, Gunna and Flo Milli, as well as its newest client, NBA player James Harden. “In its own way, sports is very similar to music because a lot of athletes want to get into lifestyle,” she says. “They want marketing.” Ward says she’s also looking forward to working with the Italian fashion house Pucci. (Ward and her executive team are all wearing Pucci in the group photo.)
What was the inspiration for your firm’s name?
My birthday is Sept. 11. And my executive board, staff and client roster now total 11. I’ve always had this synergy around the number 11; it has always felt powerful to me. Plus, I wanted something timeless. Something that would make people ask more about it.
What is your vision for the firm?
I want to do something that is very unorthodox, not one-dimensional. In addition to our music clients, we’ve just added James Harden of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. James has an agent with whom I work very closely, but I’m more like James’ lifestyle manager. He’s his own brand. I went to him and asked if he’d thought about life after basketball. I wanted to help him understand and realize that he needed to pay attention to how he’s perceived off the court. People don’t know his story. He’s very humble and gracious. He’s a board member and minority investor in Saks Fifth Avenue’s e-commerce business [known simply as Saks] and is doing things in the alcoholic beverage world with wine and tequila. And there are other things that we’re helping him build and navigate.
Future, meanwhile, is touring the rest of this spring with Don Toliver and other artists and has a new album coming in 2023 [teased earlier by the rapper as a collaboration with Metro Boomin]. Flo Milli will be performing at Coachella, with her second album due later this year.
What are the challenges of being a Black, female C-suite executive in the music industry?
The first challenge is to be received and respected. Even working with my previous partner [Emagen founder/CEO Anthony Saleh], I’ve walked into rooms and not been addressed, let alone been respected, for knowing this business inside and out. You don’t want to say you didn’t get a deal because you’re a woman. And you don’t want to use your Black card. That’s something a lot of women in this business have to deal with. At the same time, you have to have a level of stamina to sustain yourself through the joys and pains, to be able to accept the word “no,” which can feel defeating. Many of us women don’t protect or advocate for each other. When someone invites you to something, go; get someone’s phone number and call them. Get real information and learn from it. Please tell me when I’m wrong or I didn’t do enough. And then we must be able to take that information gracefully. More women need to do that for each other, especially Black women, because we can be each other’s harshest critics.
Why are there still so few female managers and C-suite executives — especially those of color — in the industry?
More work needs to be done. Aside from holding other people accountable, we need to hold ourselves accountable. As soon as everything came back after the show was paused, a lot of those efforts stopped. Going back into our offices, we need to still have that same hunger and that same fight to hold the industry accountable for what they said they were championing.
In the wake of Gunna’s plea deal before the Young Stoner Life Records RICO trial, does he have new music projects in the pipeline?
Because of the ongoing trial, I really can’t speak to that. But the time will come. Having been incarcerated for seven months, he’s really just getting acclimated to being out of a cell. Sometimes people need to give people an opportunity just to be human. In the meantime, myself and all of my clients have signed [300 Elektra Entertainment chairman/CEO] Kevin Liles’ “Art on Trial: Protect Black Art” petition. People need to understand that this issue affects not just the people who are dealing with it personally, but all of us. It’s a very serious issue that we need everyone’s support to rally behind.
You moved into artist management after meeting Future while operating your own men’s boutique. And you were featured in Emilio Pucci’s recent collection celebration in Switzerland. Will 11th & Co be collaborating with Pucci on other projects?
I have built an amazing relationship with fashion house Emilio Pucci’s new designer, Camille Miceli. I was so honored to be a part of their collection celebration in Switzerland and look forward to us continuing our relationship. 11th & Co will be working with Emilio Pucci to integrate new life to the brand, and I cannot wait to share more once everything is finalized.