It's easy to isolate one of the secrets behind the success of Michael Lippman and Rob Kahane, one of pop music's hottest management teams: Faith.
It was faith in a young British singer-songwriter named George Michael that convinced Kahane, a fast-rising Los Angeles talent agent, to resign his position in 1987 at Triad Artists to enter the personal management field.
A major reason Kahane went into partnership with Lippman was because Lippman was one of the few other industry figures who shared Kahane's faith that the teeny-bop hero Michael possessed enough talent and drive to become a credible artist.
"Nobody thought George had a future when I left Triad," Kahane recalled. "I remember people walking up to me and saying, 'You're going to give up all you've achieved here to take a shot with this \o7 kid\f7 ?'
"I could understand where they were coming from because George had this image in (his old group) Wham! of a teen pop star--and how many teen pop stars have ever been able to make the transition to serious adult artist?
"But I had an advantage on them. I had heard George's new songs and I knew \o7 him\f7 . He was extremely articulate and had a tremendous sense of direction for someone his age. You sit down with him and you would see this tremendous confidence. . . . He just blew me away."
Kahane found an ally in Lippman, a former Arista Records executive and one-time attorney for David Bowie, the Electric Light Orchestra and Patti Smith.
"I wanted to go with someone who had the same belief as I did and Michael was very reassuring," Kahane added. "He had been in that position before where people doubted something he believed in and he knew to listen to himself."
So it was sweet indeed for Lippman and Kahane when Michael's phenomenally successful debut solo album, which has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, won a Grammy for best album of 1988.
And don't think for a second that the management team missed the irony surrounding the Grammy win. The album's title: "Faith."
"The thing about both Rob and Michael is that they are very passionate, obsessive people," said Missy Worth, the director of booking at the Universal Amphitheatre. She had a unique chance to observe both Lippman and Kahane because she worked as a secretary for both men--3 1/2 years for Lippman right after he started his management company in the late '70s and then 1 1/2 years with Kahane at Triad.
"They don't take on any clients that they're not passionate about," she continued. "I think that's really important in this business because you see so many managers taking on someone just because it's a good business move or because the record company or an agent asked them to do it."
Though George Michael is the firm's most celebrated client, the company's other pop performers also carry strong critical and/or commercial endorsements. They range from urban popster Neneh Cherry and underground rock sensations Jane's Addiction to and speed-metal heroes Megadeth. These recent signings joined a roster that included veteran pop stylist Melissa Manchester.
Explaining the duo's philosophy, Kahane, 34, said, "There's a temptation to sign everyone who comes to your door because there is money to be made, but we don't want to get into the flavor-of-the-mouth rut. We want to focus on artists we feel can be around for the long run."
Added Lippman, 43, "It's a very tough business in terms of breaking new artists. People who want to get involved with management often ask what it's like and I tell them that they've got to realize that in most cases that they're going to invest a lot of emotion, energy and money in someone and there is no return.
"But if you believe in the act, it's the best feeling in the world when the act does break through. You share in the success, and I'm not just speaking about financially, but emotionally. You've got to be willing to fight. That's why it is important to make sure you really believe in the artist."
Lippman says the test he and Kahane try to apply to a potential client is a simple one: "You've got to look at yourself and say, 'Would I lie down on the road for this person?' If not, then walk away."
Lippman and Kahane's desks are side by side in a spacious Sunset Strip office where visitors can either take some practice shots on a basketball hoop or listen to music coming from the mounds of stereo equipment.
One of their clients, record producer Davitt Sigerson, calls them an ideal "tag team."
Kahane is such an "enthusiast that if he thinks something is great, he'll sometimes fight the quixotic battle," Sigerson said.
"Michael is also an enthusiast, but his view is extremely pragmatic in terms of what you can accomplish with a given record," he continued. "It makes for a good balance because sometimes Michael will hold him back, and sometimes Rob'll spur Michael on to go a step further."
Some industry figures questioned by The Times think the "tag team" reference is a good one, but not for the same reasons as Sigerson.