How This Entrepreneur Built a Powerhouse Talent Management Company With a Soul
Jon Rubinstein started his own company in 2005 for a very simple reason: “I needed a job,” he laughs.
OK, maybe he’s oversimplifying things a bit.
For years, Rubinstein worked at a successful management company that represented actors, writers, directors, comedians and digital personalities, but, he says, he wasn’t happy. He wanted to get out, but the problem was that most of his opportunities were in Los Angeles and his kids were in New York.
Rubinstein wanted to stay close to his children, but at the time, there weren’t a ton of management companies in the area. So after considering his options, he decided that if there wasn’t a New York-based company doing what he wanted to do, he’d start his own.
It was a risky move and came with its fair share of those classic middle of the night “What am I doing?!” moments that almost all entrepreneurs face. But with hard work, hard work and then some hard work, the gamble paid off. Rubinstein’s company, Authentic Talent and Literary Management, currently reps an impressive roster of creators, writers and actors including Michael C. Hall and Brie Larson. But speaking with Rubinstein, it becomes clear that his goal wasn’t simply to land a bunch of A-listers. He wanted to create a company that not only improved the careers of its clients but also had a culture and philosophy geared toward improving the world at large. Here’s how he went about doing that
He asked himself, “Why?”
“If you ask most people why their company exists, most people cannot tell you, other than to make money. So the first thing is I thought about was why should Authentic exist. There were two things that kept coming to mind: 1. I wanted to have a company that when I look back on it -- hopefully when I’m 100-years-old -- I can really proud of what we did. And 2., I wanted to focus on adding value to my clients’ lives. I wasn’t interested in being their best friend and going to parties. I wanted to empower and enable my clients to make a difference with their work."
He educated himself.
“I didn’t have a business education, so I did a lot of reading when we started out. I was really knocked out by Blue Ocean Strategy. I noticed that in my field, year after year, there would be some new client that everyone was clamoring for -- it’d be like a shark feeding frenzy among management companies. And I wasn’t particularly eager to play those games. So the premise of the book is that everybody is fighting on this small patch of bloodied, red ocean, but there's this big wide blue ocean out there and if you start looking in different areas you start to find something that there's plenty for everyone.”
He embraced “the suck.”
“Initially, it was just a grind. I'll just be really straight about it. It was me in a cubicle on Lafayette Street, and then I hired an assistant eventually. We just worked really hard and tried to figure out how to do this thing. And you quickly find all the things that don't work. At the end of the day, I’d get together with my first colleague Robert Glennon, who is still with the company, and we’d just say, ‘Well, that sucked.’ And we’d just learn from it and move on.”
He pursued happiness outside of the office.
“As hard as we were working when we started, it was and is important to me that people who worked at this company have a life. I want people to have a good life. I’ve studied meditation and Buddhism, and everything I’ve learned comes back to the idea that all happiness comes from serving others. I’ve done a lot of work in Haiti as Board President of Mimsi International, which provides medical training and pregnancy care in remote areas of the world. One of my proudest moments was during a trip, my girlfriend and I were on a beach waiting for a boat to take us to this little island and a woman approached us … [with] these little twin 6-month-old girls in her arms. And she said, ‘You did this, you helped me have these babies and they’re healthy.’ It was amazing to be a part of that.”
He looks for ways to make more doing less.
“We're definitely a performance-focused company and people are accountable for their results. But we don't, for example, have a set vacation policy for our managers. They have the capability they do whatever they want. You have got to trust people and create a structure so they're incentivized to be successful, not just glued to their desks going through the motions. And I listen to my managers. When they tell me, ‘Oh my God dude, I’m working so hard!’ the answer isn’t ‘Too bad, that’s life.’ We try to figure out what to do about. How can we support you in making 10 times the money with half the effort? That’s what I'm interested in.”
He encourages criticism.
“We do reviews with our clients every year where we ask them how we are doing. We look at what's working and not working. I got that from some management book I read somewhere but it's been great. If people say ‘everything is great’ we don’t accept that -- we truly want to know what we can do better. And if they do have a problem with us, we address it. It's one mistake I’ve seen over and over in business: people are reluctant to admit a mistake and reluctant to admit that they don't know everything. My philosophy for myself and for the company is to be constantly improving, constantly learning and constantly on the lookout to be more effective at our jobs.”