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From Boutique Agency to ICM Brass

As his employer is taken over, Chris Silbermann, 38, is named copresident of a Hollywood giant.

July 29, 2006|Claire Hoffman | Times Staff Writer

Industry watchers took note this month when talent agent Chris Silbermann showed up at investment banker Herbert Allen Jr.'s annual retreat for media and entertainment power players.

Never before had an agent with boutique firm Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann, where the 38-year-old was then managing partner, been invited to the exclusive event in Sun Valley, Idaho. But suddenly, there Silbermann was, lunching by the duck pond with International Creative Management Inc. chief Jeff Berg.

This week, Hollywood learned why. When ICM announced Thursday that it had bought the 27-agent Broder Webb, Silbermann was named copresident of ICM -- the same title held by Ed Limato, one of the most powerful agents in town.

In his new job, Silbermann will help oversee ICM's more than 500 employees in Los Angeles, New York and London.

"This is a turnaround story -- a revitalization story," Silbermann said in an interview Friday, even as word spread that in addition to the previous ICM copresident Nancy Josephson, 10 more agents were shown the door Thursday.

About the layoffs, Silbermann said, "You can't combine two companies and not have any overlap, and there was a lot of overlap. And every decision was deliberated."

Many of the agents who lost their jobs at ICM worked in television, the area that Broder Webb had long specialized in.

Describing his own management style, Silbermann compared his new position to that of a coach.

"My job is being Phil Jackson," he said, referring to the Lakers coach. "The agents are the players on the field. My job is to have them coalesce and go win the championship."

Silbermann is an avid mountain biker and tennis player, and in the 1990s, he trained with former pro boxer Macka Foley. At the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood on Friday, Foley described Silbermann as "a tough kid."

"I tell you what -- he was a fat little kid when I got him, but I got him weaned pretty good," said Foley, who had worked with Silbermann when he first started in Hollywood. "Then he got so busy with the agency, he couldn't get away and then the next time I saw him he was a yoga freak."

The courtship between ICM and Broder Webb began two years ago, Berg said. Bob Broder and Elliot Webb, two of the smaller firm's founders, were receptive, and Berg and Silbermann found that they had a lot to talk about. Both had been English literature majors at UC Berkeley, said Berg, who at 59 is 21 years older than Silbermann.

"Chris is going to be one of the future leaders of the company," Berg said. "I saw a guy who could be a real partner and when that happens you've got to go for the opportunity."

Around town, Silbermann is known as a straight shooter -- calm, sharp, hard-working and ambitious.

Devra Lieb, an agent at the small firm of Hohman Maybank Lieb, remembers meeting him in 1990 when he was promoted from the mailroom to be an agent's assistant at Triad, a now-defunct agency.

"He was one of those assistants you see and think, 'I hope they don't leave tire tracks on my back -- he's going to be star,' " said Lieb, who remains a friend. "Chris in his quiet way is very competitive. Don't let the warm, affable personality fool you."

When Triad agent Ronda Gomez-Quinones went to what was then called Broder Kurland Webb Uffner in 1991, Silbermann -- a self-described "taskmaster" in those days -- went with her. Within a year, he was promoted to become an agent, focusing on developing a roster of television clients.

In 1998, Silbermann became managing partner. Agent Ted Chervin also was promoted and the agency was renamed Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann.

Even agents at rival firms praise Silbermann.

"You won't find people to say anything bad about him," said Richard Weitz, a TV agent and partner at Endeavor Agency. "He is one of the most upstanding and moral people. And honest."

Silbermann was born in New York and moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was six. His father worked for the entertainment industry as a film publicist. He graduated from Harvard (now Harvard-Westlake) High School in North Hollywood and then UC Berkeley.

Silbermann is one-half of a power couple: His wife, Julia Franz, is executive vice president at Touchstone Television, where she oversees shows such as "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy." They have two children.

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