Corporate leadership for celebrities reaches new heights

John Rigney, Business Manager of the Stars and founding partner of Level Four Business Management, debunks the popular stereotype of the buttoned-up bean counter whose mind only absorbs digits and decimal points.

An accomplished mountaineer, he has attempted to scale Mount Everest. (Twice.) He is an experienced skier and ice climber, as well as a lover of motorcycles and mountain bikes, and he has run several marathons. So how does such an active lifestyle compare with the thoughtful restorer who says he warns his customers, “There’s no way I can make money off you – my job is to save you from losing money”?

Pretty neat as it turns out. Mark Friedman, owner and partner of Level Four, says customers “get a sense of security and comfort [in working with Rigney]. [They] knowing that their affairs are being overseen by a person who will give their all in whatever they do.”

Rigney himself believes that physical extremes both compensate and complement his business acumen. “Climbing a mountain is all about concentration. Effort. You can’t think about work at 20,000 feet trying to lift your leg 6 inches,” he says. “[But] When you come back you need this brain right here. It trains me to focus when I need to focus and to be strong when I need to be strong.”

Fifty percent of Rigney’s land-based job is spent in corporate management, attending to the needs and services of Level Four’s account managers, tax specialists and insurance professionals. This includes, as Rigney puts it, “training and retaining good people and making sure they do their job right. And the other half do the same, only with customers. Hire them, train them, fire them — all of those skills come into play.”

Hiring customers is a delicate dance, he explains: “Someone comes in with a series of questions after talking to other managers or their friends [and] I’m just being really blunt – sometimes sickeningly blunt. And that works like a charm on some people because they feel so confident because I answered them honestly.”

Customer relationships require constant maintenance. “In my humble opinion, people are paying us the vig we get as CEOs to run our business, mind their business and give them an honest opinion,” he says. “It sounds easy, but it’s not. You get an influencer” — someone considering a big purchase, for example — “and you have to listen to them and come back with something that takes their mood into account but is honest.”

Throughout his multifaceted career, Rigney has worked with a variety of well-regarded entertainment clients, including Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who affectionately refer to him as “the best in the business.”

Rigney doesn’t interfere with artistic decisions (“I Don’t Do That”), and when an actor is torn between two job offers, he weighs only the money aspects. For that house or boat which the rich are wont to covet, he will take due care. (After investigating a client’s desire to purchase a private plane, Rigney was inspired to get his own pilot’s license.)

Overall, he says, “I’m more like the arbitrator than the consigliere advising you on a big transaction. It’s more like, “You’re remodeling this house. You just have to know that the money comes from taxpayers’ money and we have to pay for it in the end. Remember what we’re doing here.” You become emotionally connected; you just have to recognize what is happening and deal with it.”

Banks are an important part of effective corporate governance, and Rigney is upfront about why. “When something needs to be done, you need someone to believe you so you don’t have to prove it.” Trust between manager and bank is just as crucial as trust between manager and client.

Rigney’s original company, which had a longstanding relationship with a banking institution, was reluctant to move to City National Bank. But in the summer of 1986, when he left to start his own company, he took the plunge. “What a difference,” he says. “I was very small and very new, but [CNB] still treated me with respect and they helped me.”

CNB was the logical choice because his specialty is hers. “They had all the managers in town and they set up systems to deal with managers,” he shares. “They said, ‘We pick up your checks every day.’ I think, ‘Really? I don’t have that many checks,” but they said, “You’re a CEO. You go into this mode and boom, we’ll start serving you.’ wow ok I like it.”

And after all this time he smiles: “It still is. … They treat us with respect and believe what I say.”

“There was never a need to look elsewhere,” Friedman agrees, citing CNB’s dedicated entertainment department, low staff turnover, and overall efficiency. “During the pandemic, the team stepped in to guide us through the crisis [Paycheck Protection Program]which was instrumental in achieving everything at a difficult time.”

He also credits CNB’s affiliation with AgilLink, “a huge plus in integrating accounting software with banking operations to simplify processing.”

In summary, Friedman says, “CNB has been instrumental in our growth and success as our banking partner over all these years.”

With a strong, stable, experienced team, a loyal client base and the right banking support, Rigney and its partners have positioned Level Four in a real place for success.

“I didn’t figure out how to train someone to be a business manager last month after 50 years,” Rigney admits. “You either have it in your stomach or you don’t. Sure, you need some skills. You need some tax knowledge; You need some accounting knowledge. You need to know how the world of corporate governance works.

“But you can’t train the rest. You either have the ability to listen to someone or you don’t. I don’t know how to train that.”

©2022 City National Bank. All rights reserved. AgilLink is an RBC company and a subsidiary of City National Bank Member FDIC. City National Bank is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada. Deposit products and services are provided by City National Bank Member FDIC.


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