Business management

Business management for celebrities takes to new heights

John Rigney, chief commercial officer of the stars and founding partner of Level Four Business Management, belies the popular stereotype of the buttoned-up bean counter whose mind only takes in numbers and decimal points.

An accomplished mountaineer, he attempted to scale Mount Everest. (Twice.) He is an expert skier and ice climber, as well as a motorcycle and mountain bike enthusiast, and has run several marathons. So how does such an active lifestyle fit in with the cautious restaurateur who says he warns his customers, “There’s no way you can make money — my job is to keep you from to lose money”?

Rather neatly, as it turns out. Mark Friedman, owner-partner of Level Four, says guests get “a sense of security and comfort [in working with Rigney]. [They] know that their affairs are overseen by someone who gives their all in everything they do.

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

Fifty percent of Rigney’s work on dry land is devoted to running the business, overseeing the needs and performance of Level Four’s account managers, tax specialists and insurance adjusters. This includes, as Rigney puts it, “training and retaining good employees, making sure they do their jobs well. And the other half does the same thing, only with clients. Hire them, train them, fire them – all of those same skills come into play.”

Hiring clients is a tricky dance, he explains: “Someone will come in with a bunch of questions after talking to other business owners or their friends. [and] I’m just being very outspoken – downright off-putting at times. And it works like a charm for some people because they feel so confident because I answered them honestly.

Relationships with customers require ongoing care. “In my humble opinion, people pay us for the vigor we receive as business leaders to run our business, take care of their business and give them an honest opinion,” he says. “It sounds easy, but it’s not. You get a high-powered person “- someone who is considering a big purchase, for example -” and you have to listen to them and come back with something that reflects their mood but is honest.

Throughout his multi-faceted career, Rigney has worked with a wide range of esteemed entertainment clients, including Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who affectionately call him “the best in the business.”

Rigney won’t meddle in artistic decisions (“That’s not what I do”), and if an actor is torn between job opportunities, he will only weigh in on the financials. For the house or the boat that the rich used to covet, he will do his due diligence. (After investigating a customer’s desire to buy a private plane, Rigney was inspired to get his own pilot’s license.)

Overall, he says, “I’m more often like the arbitrator than the consiglier who is going to advise them on a big transaction. It’s more like, ‘You’re renovating this house. Just know that the money is taxpayer money and we will have to pay it in the end. Keep in mind what we’re doing here. They attach emotionally; just recognize what is happening and deal with it.

Banks are a major part of effective business management, and Rigney is typically blunt about why. “When you need to do things, you need someone to believe you so you don’t have to prove it.” Trust between the manager and the bank is just as crucial as that between the manager and the client.

Rigney’s original business, having had a long-standing relationship with a banking institution, was reluctant to move to City National Bank. But in the summer of 1986, when he left to found his own company, he took the plunge. “What a difference,” he said. “I was very young and very new, but [CNB] they always treated me with respect and they helped me.

CNB was the logical choice because its specialty is also theirs. “They had all the business owners in town and they had systems in place to deal with the business owners,” he shares. “They said, ‘We’ll pick up your checks every day.’ I’m like, ‘Really? I don’t have a lot of checks,’ but they were like, ‘You’re a business owner. You go into this mode and boom, we’ll start serving you. Wow, Alright! I like that.”

And after all this time, he smiles: “It’s always like that. … They treat us with respect and they believe what I say.

“There was never a need to look elsewhere,” Friedman acknowledges, 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 essential for everything to be accomplished during a difficult time.

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

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

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

“I still haven’t figured out, after turning 50 last month, how to train someone to be a business leader,” Rigney admits. “Either you have it in your belly or you don’t. Of course, you need certain skills. You need tax knowledge; you need some accounting knowledge. You need to know how the world of business management works.

“But for the rest, 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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