John Rigney, business manager to the stars and a founding partner of Level Four Business Management, belies the popular stereotype of the buttoned-down bean counter whose mind takes in only digits and decimal points.
An accomplished mountain climber, he has attempted to scale Mount Everest. (Twice.) He’s an expert skier and ice climber, as well as an aficionado of motorcycles and mountain bikes, and he has run several marathons. So how does such an active lifestyle square with the prudent conservator who says he warns his clients, “There’s no possible way I can make you money — my job is to keep you from losing money”?
Rather neatly, as it turns out. Mark Friedman, owner-partner of Level Four, says clients get “a sense of security and comfort [in working with Rigney]. [They] know their affairs are being overseen by a person who gives it his all in everything he does.”
Rigney himself believes that physical extremes both compartmentalize and complement his business acumen. “When you climb a mountain, it’s all about focus. Exertion. You can’t think about work when you’re at 20,000 feet trying to raise your leg up 6 inches,” he says. “[But] when you come back, you need that brain here. It trains me how to focus when I need to focus and be strong when I need to be strong.”
Fifty percent of Rigney’s job on terra firma is spent in firm management, seeing to the needs and performance of Level Four’s account managers, tax specialists and insurance experts. This includes, as Rigney puts it, “training and keeping good employees, making sure they do their job right. And the other half is doing the same thing, only with clients. Hiring them, training them, firing them — all of those same skills come into play.”
Client hiring is a delicate dance, he explains: “Someone will come in with a bunch of questions after talking to other business managers, or his friends [and] I’m just really blunt — off-puttingly blunt, sometimes. And that works like a charm to some people, because they feel so trusting because I answered them honestly.”
Client relationships require continuous care. “In my humble opinion, people pay us the vig we get as business managers to run our company, take care of their stuff and give them an honest opinion,” he says. “That sounds easy, but it’s not. You get a high-powered person” — one who’s considering some big purchase, for instance — “and you’ve got 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 wide range of esteemed clients in entertainment, including Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who fondly refer to him as “the best in the business.”
Rigney won’t get involved in artistic decisions (“That’s not what I do”), and if an actor is torn between two job opportunities, he’ll weigh in on the money aspects only. For the home or boat the wealthy are wont to covet, he’ll perform due diligence. (After investigating a client’s desire to buy a private plane, Rigney was inspired to get his own pilot’s license.)
By and large, he says, “I’m like the referee more often than the consigliere who’s going to advise them on a big transaction. It’s more like, ‘You’re remodeling that house. Just know that the money’s coming from the tax money, and we’re going to have to pay it in the end. Keep in mind what we’re doing here.’ They get emotionally attached; you just have to recognize what’s happening and deal with it.”
Banks are a major component of effective business management, and Rigney is characteristically blunt as to why. “When you need stuff done, you need somebody to believe you so you don’t have to prove it.” Trust between manager and bank is every bit as crucial as that between manager and client.
Rigney’s original firm, having had a long-standing relationship with one banking institution, was resistant to switching to City National Bank. But in the summer of 1986, when he left to start his own firm, he made the leap. “What a difference,” he says. “I was very little and very new, but [CNB] still treated me with respect, and they helped me.”
CNB was the logical choice because his specialty is also theirs. “They had all the business managers in town, and they set up systems to deal with business managers,” he shares. “They’d say, ‘We’ll pick up your checks every day.’ I’m like, ‘Really? I don’t have that many checks,’ but they were like, ‘You’re a business manager. You go into this mode and boom, we’re going to start servicing you.’ Whoa, OK! I like that.”
And after all this time, he smiles, “It’s still that way. … They treat us with respect, and they believe what I say.”
“There has never been 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 [Paycheck Protection Program], which was critical in getting it all accomplished during a difficult time.”
He also credits CNB’s affiliation with AgilLink, “a huge plus in integrating the accounting software with banking operations to make processing easier.”
In sum, says Friedman, “CNB has been instrumental in our growth and success as our banking partner over all these years.”
With a strong, stable, experienced team in place, loyal clientele and the right banking support, Rigney and partners have positioned Level Four in a real sweet spot for success.
“I haven’t figured out yet, after 50 years last month, how to train somebody to be a business manager,” Rigney admits. “Either you have it in your gut, or you don’t. Sure, you need some skills. You need some tax knowledge; you need some bookkeeping knowledge. You need to know how the business management world operates.
“But then the rest of it, you can’t train. Either you have the ability to listen to a human being, or you don’t. I don’t know how you train that.”
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