For the first time in the 105-year history of the William Morris Agency, the board of directors is no longer exclusively an old boys club.
WMA chairman Norman Brokaw and president-CEO Jim Wiatt have named Gotham-based literary department co-heads Suzanne Gluck and Jennifer Rudolph Walsh to the board, along with Mark Itkin, the head of the syndication, cable and nonfiction programming who packaged reality series like “Big Brother” and “Fear Factor,” and John Fogelman, the motion picture department co-head who reps actors Eric Bana and Kevin Spacey and Pulitzer-winning playwright Suzan Lori Parks and “Mummy” helmer Stephen Sommers.
As the quartet come in, Owen Laster and Walt Zifkin are stepping down at their election, per the agency. Zifkin recently stood down as CEO last week, cedeing full exec control to Wiatt.
Why now, after more than a century?
“These are two very significant people in our company, it’s the right time and the right people and the company is in the midst of change,” said Wiatt, who noted that all the members also inject younger blood to the percentery. He added: “Along with John and Mark, we are bringing in very powerful voices here.”
“A new, younger generation is helping to guide the agency,” said Fogelman, “but this company was the pioneer in protecting artists’ rights, and we intend to be true to that spirit. The fact that we are younger and more diverse gives us a keener insight into what today’s global audiences seek, and the ability to meet those tastes with great flexibility and broader perspective.”
Given WMA’s ownership structure, a board seat has long been considered somewhat symbolic, but with a bigger paycheck. But chairman Norman Brokaw insists that all four “will play a major role in the overall direction of the company” and it’s a duty not being taken lightly by Gluck and Walsh. Both joined the agency two years ago to head the lit department, Gluck coming from a long tenure at ICM and Walsh being added when WMA bought the Writers Shop, the boutique she co-owned.
Many agency-watchers thought the ascension of Gluck and Walsh a long-overdue development. Sherry Lansing, Stacey Snider, Amy Pascal and Nina Jacobson hold top movie studio jobs, with Susan Lyne, Gail Berman and Dana Walden doing the same in television. The agency business, by contrast, has been a male-dominated industry.
ICM has been the exception, with three female board members — co-president Nancy Josephson, Amanda “Binky” Urban and Esther Newberg — on an eight-member board.
CAA hasn’t had a woman on its board, but there are a number of female partners. Endeavor’s partnership braintrust is entirely male. UTA’s board of directors is all-male, but motion picture talent co-head Tracey Jacobs and TV department co-head Sue Naegle are current partners and there have been numerous predecessors.
‘Storming the castle’
Female dealmakers who want ownership and a say in policy have fared better in management. Julie Silverman Yorn is partner at the Firm, Cynthia Pett Dante has a partnership stake in Brillstein-Grey and Evelyn O’Neill and Suzan Bymel are co-owners of Management 360. Former agents like Joan Hyler, Patricia McQueeney and Judy Hofflund own their own shops, as does former UTA partner J.J. Harris.
“We are storming the castle, and it’s thrilling,” Walsh said. “Once you let two in, just watch out because more will follow. The existing board members were heroic in supporting us and something that is long overdue and very welcome.
“This was paved by a lot of great agents and we are reaping the benefits, but we don’t take the responsibility lightly. There’s a need and a mandate for us to make real use out of this incredible platform.”