Don’t Forget Your Early Mentors, You Would Not Be Here Without Them
As I look back on my 30 year career, I realize just how important my early mentors were, and how important it is to recognize the impact and guidance they offered, as well as what I learned from them – both good and bad. I have had at least 5 different mentors who impacted my career and life, and I realize how damn lucky I was.
In 1986 – while a student at UMASS/Amherst, I befriended a local blues-rock band called Curtis T. & The Kick, and set out as their manager and talent agent. This was my first foray into the entertainment world and I soon discovered my passion. I opened up a small talent agency in New York called Reel-Axe Entertainment (while simultaneously working for my father’s company) and I began representing local New York City blues bands.
As it turns out, my father was my original mentor. He could see that I had a real passion for live music and he supported that passion by encouraging me to put a resume together in order to land a job at a real talent agency. Thankfully, I listened to his advice and landed a job in the mailroom at the legendary talent agency, Associated Booking Corporation. Thank you, Dad!
ABC Booking had been founded in the 1940s by legendary jazzman, Louis Armstrong. Armstrong’s former tour manager, Oscar Cohen, had owned the agency for years and ruled with an iron fist. Oscar became my second mentor and although I was terrified of him then, I realize that his methods would create a toughness within in me that would serve me for the rest of my career. I spent my first three months at ABC making copies and fetching coffee before I was promoted out of the mailroom and made a booking agent. I was given a desk, a rolodex, and a telephone and began booking some of my heroes like BB King, Albert King, and Bobby Blue Bland. It was 1989; I was just 25 years old. My career in the music business had really only just begun. Thank you, Oscar!
After a year and a half at Associated Booking Corp, I moved on to a brand-new talent agency called Artist & Audience Entertainment. A&A was founded by former ICM agent Alex Kochan and opened its doors with two of the biggest clients in the world at that time – Paul McCartney and Guns N’ Roses. Alex was revered in the industry as an innovator and a guy who always thought outside of the box. Alex was the only agent in the business that actually travelled to every one of the tour dates with his clients.
His principles and leadership ideas were critical to my thinking and to this day, I keep many of the elements that Alex taught me as part of my own fabric. Alex introduced me to the great book written by Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as a dynamic learning opportunity known as The Landmark Forum. I also learned from Alex the importance of handling business disappointment with integrity and grace under pressure.
In 1995, I was fortunate enough to find myself in the right place at the right time and “discovered” my first big client, a young soul singer by the name of Joan Osborne. At the time, Joan was a regional artist without a recording contract. Alex recognized my passion for Joan as an artist and despite his reservations of adding her as our third client, supported my vision and allowed me to sign Joan, and she became my first client. A year later, Joan released her first record, RELISH, which went on to achieve multi-platinum status and was nominated for 6 Grammy awards. As a young booking agent, I looked like I might know a thing or two and my stock rose inside of the agency universe. I was very lucky to have met my third mentor, Alex Kochan. Thank you, Alex!
I represented Joan for a very long time and to this day, I look back and realize how lucky I was to have met and worked with her. It was through my relationship with Joan that I met my 4th mentor, famed artist manager David Sonenberg. David had been an iconic figure as an artist manager and in the record business for years. David had a sweet aura about him and was a dynamic leader and decision maker. I remember many a day sitting in his office, listening to him talk on the phone, and hanging on every word. David was a master at creating enthusiasm on behalf of his clients with the record company executives at a time when record companies actually mattered. I learned about grace, dignity, and what it meant to support others from David, and I thank you David for your impact.
In 2000, I took a job at Metropolitan Entertainment. Working for the legendary concert promoter and impresario, John Scher, I oversaw their Corporate Events division. At the time, I was running a fledgling talent agency with basically one client, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. John Scher was a huge fan of Johnny’s and had an opening at his company for a talent buyer and corporate event producer. I very much wanted to explore that side of our business, so John and I swung a deal and despite not having any experience producing or buying talent, John brought me into Metropolitan Entertainment and allowed me to learn the trade from the ground floor.
The first event I produced was for the Port Authority of New York in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The headliner was Bill Cosby, along with Betty Buckley and Michael Feinstein as the openers. Despite my naiveté, somehow the show happened – I honestly had no idea what I was doing. Two years later, Metropolitan Entertainment was gobbled up by what is now known as Live Nation and I decided to open up my own company, WhiteLeaf Entertainment Group.
But, John Scher left his mark on me. John was always a naturally curious guy, a guy who liked to listen to ideas and had the bravado to take chances on events, artists, and people. He certainly took a chance on me and is without question responsible for giving me the opportunity and experience necessary to start my own company. In my time at Metropolitan, I began to see more and more of a need for someone who could cater to private and corporate clients who were seeking A-List entertainment for their events; someone who understood the marketplace and who could save these clients money on entertainment and production costs. It was here that the concept for my new adventure, WhiteLeaf Entertainment Group, was formulated and my business vision for a boutique service was created. So, thank you, John!
It has been an amazing run thus far and as we continue to celebrate our 15th year (and a re-branding of the company name to Whiteleaf Events); I could not be more proud of our accomplishments and am extremely excited about what’s to come next.
More importantly, it’s a time for all of us to consider who our mentors were (are) and to properly thank them for all of their contributions to us. So, thank you to my Dad, Oscar, Alex, David, and John.
Remember to pay it forward. Someone is looking at you as a possible mentor and you have a responsibility to respond to their trust.