Arnold Rifkin has been named president of the William Morris Agency, joining Norman Brokaw, Jerry Katzman and Walter Zifkin in the agency’s management team.
His promotion comes with other changes among senior Morris management: Katzman, who has been president of the agency, takes on the new title of vice chairman, while Zifkin, who had been chief operating officer, assumes the title of chief executive officer that has been held by Norman Brokaw. Brokaw will continue as chairman of the tenpercentery.
The changes do not spell any major new direction for the agency, but are intended to demonstrate stability, with Brokaw and Katzman heading the new exec team.
Rifkin signed a new contract last November to remain at the percentery for an additional five years, following a brief flirtation with Sony in September.
His new title had been rumored for months, but WMA officials said that it was unrelated to negotiations for a new contract. Rifkin said he was approached in January with the idea that he would become prez.
Brokaw noted that the change follows a tradition of succession in the company. When he became chairman six years ago, Katzman, who had been worldwide head of their television department, became prexy.
“This was a plan that I felt we should do and we did it,” Brokaw said. “It is a tradition in the William Morris Agency. We are as steady a ship as you could be, and it is a great time to make a change.”
In fact, WMA officials said they had expected that one of their senior managers would come from the ranks of Triad Artists, which WMA acquired in 1992 in a move to revive its motion picture department. The Triad acquisition brought a client list that included Bruce Willis, Daniel Day-Lewis, Steven Soderbergh and Danny Glover.
Rifkin, a co-founding partner of Triad, became worldwide head of motion pictures. Said Zifkin: “The plan has worked.”
With a client list that includes Whoopi Goldberg, Jackie Chan and Willis, Rifkin has been credited with bolstering WMA’s motion picture department.
The agency has recently added Tim Burton, Jackie Chan, Richard Dreyfuss, Arnold Schwarzenegger and William Hurt. The past year has seen the departure of Sylvester Stallone and Joe Eszterhas; Rifkin characterized their moves as a normal part of the business and based on “philosophical differences.”
“The successes that we had, those are experiences that can never be taken away,” Rifkin said.
WMA officials would not release actual figures, but said overall revenues at the agency have increased 65% since the Triad acquisition, and that motion picture revenues have quadrupled. The department has grown at a rate of about 40% annually since the merger.
Rifkin also created an independent-film department to complement the percentery’s studio business. The agency also said that last year brought in record revenue.
In addition to his new title, Rifkin will continue as worldwide head of motion pictures.
Staying the course
Rifkin had toyed with the idea of taking a top job at Sony Pictures Entertainment. With word that he was considering such a move, other agencies saw an opportunity to poach.
But the talks fizzled. That same week in September, the agency announced that Rifkin had signed a long-term agreement to stay, but that deal wasn’t signed until November.
“I have been playing a significant role in the agency,” Rifkin said. “The change will be that I will have more interaction with other divisions.”
Rifkin expects to take on greater duties in areas beyond the motion picture department. And while he expects to sign new names, he sees a greater number of other agents signing the top talent.
Signings of the times
That already has been happening. Schwarzenegger, one of the agency’s biggest coups in the last year based on pure earnings power, signed with Robert Stein, and Burton with Mike Simpson.
Zifkin and Katzman said their new titles will not have a significant impact on their duties. Zifkin, a major architect of the acquisition of Triad, has been a leader of the management team for the past decade, responsible for the company’s overall operations and its real estate holdings.
Katzman, who has been president of WMA for six years, will continue to play a part in the agency’s TV business, having packaged shows such as “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne” when he was head of the agency’s TV department. He heads WMA’s corporate advisory division, recently designing the alliance that created 3 Arts Television
Brokaw in chair
Brokaw, who has been with Morris for 55 years, continues as chairman, with a client roster that includes Bill Cosby and, most recently, Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, as well as politicos, newscasters and sports stars.
“Strengthening our senior team is the best preparation I can think of for the exciting century to come,” Brokaw said in a statement. “I welcome the expertise and muscle added to our leadership group as we enter a new millennium.”