Michael Karlin Receives Variety’s Business Manager Elite Award

Veteran's successful career has led him to give back to the industry

It’s one thing to help clients make wise investments and retain wealth. It’s something else – and something larger – to support causes that reach beyond the narrow confines of personal fortune.

That’s why Variety is honoring Michael Karlin — a founding partner, along with Fred Nigro and Mickey Segal, of Nigro Karlin Segal Feldstein & Bolno — with its Business Manager Elite Award at a breakfast Nov. 12 at the Montage Beverly Hills.

Each year the prize recognizes a business manager not just for the impact on the business management profession, but also for a strong commitment to charitable causes.

Over the past 33 years, Karlin’s breadth of accounting and business experience has been instrumental in establishing his firm as a leader in business management. He ushers the business and financial affairs of many high-net-worth and high-net-income clients, including business executives, real estate developers and — of course — entertainment industry execs and creatives.

“My dad told me, ‘Get a business degree first, then you can do whatever you want.’”
Michael Karlin

Ironically, Karlin never set out to be an accountant. “I wanted to be an architect,” says the consummate professional — and son of a Los Angeles builder and architect. “My dad told me, ‘Get a business degree first, then you can do whatever you want, as it will be an advantage in any field.’”

Heeding that advice, Karlin attended USC on a scholarship and received a B.A. in accounting in 1976, and later a master’s in taxation. “I really liked accounting from the get-go,” he says. “You either get it, or you don’t. There’s no in between.”

Karlin’s first job was with Ernst & Whinney, one of the Big 8 accounting firms at the time, working in the tax department and handling business management and taxes for entertainment clients. “That’s how it all started.”
Looking back, Karlin cites working with clients Joan Rivers and Van Halen among his career highlights. “I love my clients, and I see the entertainment business as dynamic and ever-changing,” he says.

Karlin’s experience has led him to believe that “you can never take your eye off the ball. I’ve seen so many changes — especially in the last five years. It’s a digital download and streaming business now, so all the economic models are changing dramatically.”

His takeaway: “Everyone’s now working harder for less, so you really need to understand the economics of the new technologies.”

Given that, and the high degree of personalized financial care he provides, it would be logical to assume Karlin’s job is often a demanding exercise in client hand-holding, 24/7/365.

Not so, he says. “I’m always available for any emergency, but generally after business hours I’m not contacted, and a lot of that has to do with managing expectations. If you respond to an email at 11 p.m., then clients start expecting you to be available at that time. Happily, my clients are all extremely respectful.”

Karlin’s firm has a strong culture of giving. “We’ve always supported many charities,” he says.

The main one is the Motion Picture and Television Fund, where Karlin sits on the board. “I started by serving on the Next Generation Council of the MPTF after being asked by Casey Wasserman,” he recalls. Karlin then helped form the org’s Professional Advisory Council and Professional Advisory Network.

Karlin also works with the Beverly Hills Performing Arts Center and is on the board of advisers of USC’s Leventhal School of Accounting. “It’s important to give back,” he says. “The role model for me is Jeffrey Katzenberg, who always says, ‘Everything I have is because of the entertainment industry, so why not give back?’ That’s always resonated with me.”

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