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How Management Firm Friends At Work Is Thriving Under Female Leadership

Company founder Ty Stiklorius names Michele Harrison and Adina Friedman co-heads of the management division.

Friends At Work, the management firm founded by Ty Stiklorius in 2015, has in less than four years become a major powerhouse in entertainment, extending its reach beyond music to television, film and all manner of visual content. Its client roster includes John Legend, whom Stiklorius has represented for more than a decade, Lindsey Stirling, Grammy-winning musician, producer and tastemaker Raphael Saadiq, Los Angeles pop/rock duo VOILÀ, newcomer Frawley and hit songwriter RuthAnne (Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands”), among others.

Its staff now numbers more than 14 employees and includes Michele Harrison (pictured at right) and Adina Friedman (center), who were recently named co-heads of the management division of Friends At Work. They are two of the female leaders guiding the firm into the future and have been tasked with supporting and nurturing the firm’s younger managers, finding new clients and other managers to partner with.

Harrison arrived from Monotone Management, where she spent 16 years of her career and worked with Vampire Weekend, while Friedman came over with Stiklorius from Atom Factory, where the two worked on such clients as Meghan Trainor (now with Full Stop) and Lindsey Stirling, whom Friedman still handles.

“I was looking for growth,” says Harrison of her new gig. “And I liked the way Friends At Work is taking a new approach to management that’s more full service. Like: we offer a creative department, we have a social impact arm, we have a touring department, a digital department, a branding person… I love that we can do it all and we can also supplement whatever a label is doing on artists of ours who are signed to a label.”

For Friedman, following Stiklorius was a no-brainer. “Ty has been a mentor and has taken such good care of me over the years so it was a really easy choice to follow her. And then, of course, our clients followed us.”

Stiklorius made her name in the industry as John Legend’s longtime manager, going back to his formative years in their native Philadelphia. As the rare female manager in the boys club that is the music industry, she witnessed firsthand the dismissive nature of the business’ powerful figures, who would often mistake her for a girlfriend or assistant, as she has herself described over the years. So what is the magic sauce of Stiklorius’ management style?

“She’s very much a team player,” says Friedman. “A lot of CEOs approach things as what’s in the best interest of the client, which is definitely how we approach things, too, but I also felt that Ty had a second line: what’s in the best interest of the manager and the people that work for me? I saw time and time again how much Ty had my back on things and just supported me in a way I had never seen.”

Harrison says she too noticed that, while at Monotone, “There just wasn’t very many female managers. Ty was one of the few I knew of, so when we met it was sort of magical — like we need to be working together. I think she’s a visionary. And also the quality of the people that she surrounds herself was so evident to me.”

Togetherness is a key tenet of Friends At Work, which centers its operations around collaboration. As Harrison describes: “The minute I joined, I was wowed by how truly teamwork-oriented the company is. We play to each other’s strengths. Everybody works on every client to some degree and that was a newer kind of concept to me — where you really are like a brain trust and everybody’s collaborating .”

Friedman concurs and suggests that spirit of collaboration extends to the types of business projects they take on. For example, John Legend’s commercial deal with Pampers — an ad campaign that incorporated Legend’s wife Chrissy Teigan and former “Voice” coach Adam Levine under the banner “Stinky Booty.”

“The Pampers deal was conceptualized by our creative team,” says Friedman, who transitioned to management after stints at Atlantic Records and Warner Records in New York. “And  it brought this whole new revenue source and creative project to John. Even with his NBC Christmas special, that was produced by Friends At Work as well. So we’ve been able to grow more and more and do more projects in-house, which has been really exciting.”

At its Culver City offices, the Friends At Work team holds weekly team sit-downs and “multiple artists-centric meetings,” Friedman elaborates. “It’s a collaborative experience across artists.”

Adds Harrison: “So many people talk the talk of teamwork and inclusion, but that is really a real thing here. Like people are excited and want to work together and there’s no competition. There’s none of that, ‘Oh, that person stole my idea’ that you find in other business culture. It’s just different here. Everybody’s supporting each other. I do think that has a lot to do with Ty and her ideas, obviously — it’s just the way she built the company.”

But while Friends At Work touts its “female-led” operation, it also emphasizes the importance of its male employees, which include head of digital Jeremy Gruber and director of content Lee Loechler. Says Friedman: “We are a female fronted management company and we definitely want to make sure females get their voice heard, but at the same time, we do have male employees. We think the Ruth Bader Ginsburg way — it’s more about equality than it is about any one gender.”

Still, it’s hard not to feel “like a minority a lot of the time,” adds Friedman. “I’ve seen the boys club mentality over and over again and it can be very discouraging. I’ve seen friends leave the business because of it — just get out of music altogether. So I feel very very fortunate to be a part of what Ty has built.”

In the end, offers Harrison, it’s really about great art as much as it is about strong management. “If it’s really good, it will rise to the top,” she says. “Obviously, you have to pivot your strategies, but at the core has to be great art that you really are passionate about and believe in.”

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