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Charting the Cash So Singers Can Top the Charts

Business managers free up artists to do what they’re good at, says veteran Bernie Gudvi

Bernie Gudvi Business Manager
Michael Buckner / Variety Content Studio

A business manager in show business can keep celebrity clients exclusively focused on “show,” because talent doesn’t have to worry about taking care of business.

Veteran rocker Michael McDonald is one of those happy to hand over the financial reins. “It takes all the energy and time and concentration I can muster to just do the next album,” he says. “I always wanted to have everything else off my plate … to a fault maybe. I don’t know where anything is; God forbid anything should happen to Bernie!”

“Bernie” is McDonald’s longtime business manager, Bernie Gudvi of NKSFBGO Business Management. Gudvi defines his role clearly: “CFO for every single one of my clients.” The artist is the shareholder and product, he explains, and their manager is the CEO making the big strategic decisions. The business manager must take care of the artist’s cash flow and financial planning, like any other chief financial officer.

Katy Perry, another long-term client, says she learned the facts of financial life from Gudvi. “It takes money to do things, and it takes money to do things well. That’s just a fact of our world…. He knows life is full of surprises and curveballs,” and as a result, “he’s always looking to protect and save.”

Artists, Gudvi explains, “are busy doing what they do, and as a result of what they do, there’s a lot of money that comes their way. They’re not equipped to deal with it on any level other than what little training they have as kids.” Entertainment, he notes, is that rare business where people can make a fortune but know nothing about how the money side works.

McDonald knows that from personal experience. “When you’re making five grand a year, and suddenly the money starts rolling in, you realize you don’t know anything about it,” he says. The services of a reputable and dedicated finances manager are essential.

Perhaps 60% of the business manager’s work is predictable: insurance coverage, taxes, cash flow planning, paying the bills. It’s the remaining 40% — divorces, family crises, and clients who want to invest in real estate or startups — that add a jolt of adrenaline.

“But I’ve always told my staff,” says Gudvi, “if we are proactive and not reactive, then we’re going to keep a client for life.” Staying a step or two ahead can make it easier to provide the right data or recommendations at an urgent moment.

Artists with long track records have distinctly different needs from novices. Gudvi, who services both, says working for the former is “more about managing a wealthy individual. And about retirement: thinking how to pay the bills without having to get to work every day. … The focus is security.”

While a longtime singer-songwriter can be carried along on a tidy revenue stream, the artist who’s just charted for the first time is working without a net.  Perry recalls, “In my twenties, it was fast and furious. I was trying to gain understanding while being slingshotted through this world. I was trying to make sense of it all…. [Bernie] helped me create a set of financial values that I still rely on.”

All performers, long-termers or newly minted, need to control their appetites.

Gudvi puts it this way: “You can make a zillion dollars and spend a zillion plus one…. There’s a mentality with performing artists. Somebody wants to go spend $100,000 on something, and they’ll say, ‘You know what, Bernie? I’ll just do two more gigs, one more show, three more shows.’ I try to get them to steer away from that sort of thinking.”

The wise business manager will schedule formal meetings at which the client is confronted with the state of their cash and investments, and the need to plan ahead for rainy days. It may even be necessary to lay out a worst-case scenario when a client’s desires or plans run counter to their best interests. But Gudvi stresses the need for prudence: “We have to walk a fine line. … You don’t want the client to think that you don’t believe in them.”

If the business manager is the CFO, then it follows that their relationship with a bank is crucial. Gudvi considers City National Bank in Los Angeles a close working partner. “[City National has been] part of my world for a long, long time, and they’ve always done the right thing.” Most recently, they stepped up in early pandemic days when musicians and support personnel were in dire need of PPP loans, which were going first come, first served. “We pretty much garnered all of our staff and worked with the bank … around the clock to get them done.” He notes, “The majority of our loans went through City National, and they just did a great job facilitating and helping us.”

Credibility is the business manager’s greatest asset with his bank, earned through the manager’s due diligence. Gudvi says he’d never approach CNB with a client’s loan request without first vetting the likelihood of that loan’s being repaid.

“They understand business managers,” he states. “And if I tell them that my client is going to do A, B, and C, they believe me.”

Those seeking a business manager need to perform their due diligence, too: inquiring into reputations, seeking a good fit. Privacy and confidentiality are paramount. The business manager knows every penny coming in and going out, so discretion is essential. Rapport can also help, though to Gudvi’s way of thinking, “If somebody’s paying you, it’s different than being somebody’s friend.”

He muses, “I’ve had many clients for 25, 30 years. And the reason, I think, is the trust. They have confidence in me and my firm to take care of the job.”

Perry certainly does: “He is a man of respect, of determination, of foresight, of trust, of loyalty.” Moreover, she says, “he understands that there has to be communication,” an idea Gudvi endorses when he reports, “What I tell my staff is to communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep them informed so there’s no surprises.

“My business epitaph on my gravestone should be, ‘No surprises.’ Because if you can manage that, you’ve got a client for life.”