Michael Jackson - cautionary tale on spending

Discussion in 'Professional Trading' started by TheStudent, Jun 26, 2009.

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/14/business/yourmoney/14michael.html

    May 14, 2006
    What Happened to the Fortune Michael Jackson Made?

    This article was reported by Jeff Leeds, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Timothy L. O'Brien and written by Mr. O'Brien.

    SEATED in a $9,000-a-night luxury suite in the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, Michael Jackson played the role of a wealthy pop star as he met with two senior executives of the Sony Corporation last December. From the opulent setting to Mr. Jackson's retinue of advisers, there was little indication that Sony's troops were paying a visit because they were concerned that he was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy proceedings.

    Sony was worried because Mr. Jackson was the company's partner in a lucrative music publishing business that included songs by the Beatles and other musicians. If Mr. Jackson became insolvent, his 50 percent share of that $1 billion business would be up for grabs to the highest bidder, leaving Sony to confront the uncomfortable possibility that it would be forced into a new, unpredictable partnership not of its own choosing.

    With the waters of the Persian Gulf and a teeming, prosperous emirate splayed out far beneath them, the group got down to business. According to those who attended the meeting and requested anonymity because confidential financial matters were discussed, Mr. Jackson was pensive and cooperative, seemingly well aware of the gravity of his situation despite the grandeur of his surroundings. He only chirped up occasionally to remark on what a wonderful investment the catalog had been.

    After listening to Mr. Jackson, Robert S. Wiesenthal, a senior Sony executive, eventually proposed that Sony would help the singer find a bank to lend him more than $300 million to pay off his debts. In exchange, Mr. Jackson would possibly forfeit a portion of his half of the Beatles catalog.

    Just last month, Mr. Jackson — still swamped in debt, with his musical career in stasis and his personal life limned by scandal — agreed to that financial overhaul. It is likely to strip him of about half of his remaining stake in the catalog, which he has relied on as a financial lifeline for about a decade. According to executives involved in the restructuring talks, Mr. Jackson used the catalog, as well as copyrights to his own songs, as collateral for roughly $270 million in bank loans he took out to fund a spending spree that includes upkeep for his sprawling California ranch, Neverland, and other exotic luxuries.

    Given how precarious Mr. Jackson's financial situation appears to be, it is unclear how long he will be able to retain his remaining stake in his prized music catalog. A reckoning appears near, and Mr. Jackson's ability to hold onto his fortune has proven to be as fleeting as stardom itself.

    The arc of Mr. Jackson's career, and his management of his business and financial affairs, tracks some of the timeworn truisms about the realities of the entertainment industry and those who inhabit its upper tiers: a child star unwittingly beholden to others who control his bank account; a more mature adult who is savvy about packaging and marketing himself but who grows increasingly undisciplined about his spending; and, finally, a reclusive caricature locked inside a financial and emotional fantasyland of his own making.

    For those without access to Mr. Jackson's personal accounts, assessing exactly how much money has passed through his hands over a career that spans decades is impossible. Sales of his recordings through Sony's music unit have generated more than $300 million in royalties for Mr. Jackson since the early 1980's, according to three individuals with direct knowledge of the singer's business affairs. Revenues from concerts and music publishing — including the creation of a venture with Sony that controls the Beatles catalog — as well as from endorsements, merchandising and music videos added, perhaps, $400 million more to that amount, these people believe.

    WHATEVER portion of those earnings actually ended up in Mr. Jackson's wallet is also difficult to assess because it would have to account for hefty costs like recording and production expenses, taxes and the like that would have reduced income from his business endeavors. Mr. Jackson could not be reached for comment.

    "I think that Michael never had any concept of fiscal responsibility, or logical fiscal responsibility. He was an individual that had been overindulged by those that represented him or worked for him for all of his life," said Alvin Malnik, a former financial adviser to Mr. Jackson and a former lawyer for Meyer Lansky, the late mob kingpin. "There was no planning in terms of allocations of how much he should spend. As a businessman, you can forecast your spending for the next six months to a year. For Michael, it was whatever he wanted at the time he wanted.

    "Millions of dollars annually were spent on plane charters, purchases of antiques and paintings," Mr. Malnik continued. "If you want to take a trip to London, that's one thing. If you want to continue that trip and have your entourage of 15 or 20 people go with you, it gets expensive."
  2. Others close to Mr. Jackson say that the performer's finances have not deteriorated simply because he is a big spender. They say that until the early 1990's, he paid relatively close attention to his accounting and kept an eye on the cash that flowed through his business and creative ventures. After that, they say, Mr. Jackson became overly enamored of something that ensnares wealthy people of all stripes: bad advice.

    "Some people can go to a person like Michael and say, 'Listen, this is out of hand.' Other people would much rather say, 'Whatever you want,' and they don't care," said Frank Dileo, who was Mr. Jackson's manager from 1984 to 1989. "I think after me, there were a lot of people that didn't care. All they were interested in was what they were getting. And they killed the golden goose."

    Michael Jackson has spent a lifetime surprising people, in recent years largely because of a surreal personal life, lurid legal scandals, serial plastic surgeries and erratic public behavior that have turned him — on his very best days — into the butt of late-night talk-show jokes and tabloid headlines. But when his career began to take off nearly four decades ago as a member of the pop group the Jackson 5, fans and entertainment industry veterans recognized something else about the pint-size musical dynamo that was unusual: He was in possession of an outsize, mesmerizing talent.

    Deke Richards, a writer and producer who worked closely with Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, in shaping the earliest stages of Mr. Jackson's career, recalls watching the singer in one of his earliest performances in Los Angeles. It was 1969 at the Daisy Club, a Beverly Hills venue located on Rodeo Drive, and while the entire Jackson entourage impressed Mr. Richards, Michael was the star.

    "It was almost evident that it was something special, it was like the reincarnation of Frankie Lyman," said Mr. Richards, referring to the 1950's teenage vocalist who turned "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" into a hit. "Nobody had seen anything like that since Frankie, a kid with chops like that who could sing like that. It was like a 30-year-old man was inside this little boy."

    Although Mr. Gordy promoted Mr. Jackson as an 8-year-old wunderkind in advance of the Daisy Club appearance, the singer was just weeks shy of his 11th birthday when he performed there. Even so, he had already spent years in talent shows and performing in seedy Midwestern clubs under the aegis of Joe Jackson, his dictatorial and ambitious father. Joe Jackson and Mr. Gordy were the singer's twin mentors during Michael's early career; neither of them could be reached to comment for this article.

    Despite Michael Jackson's youth, Mr. Gordy and others recognized that in addition to the singer's talent he also was an observant, diligent understudy keen to learn all that he could about the workings of the music business.

    "Michael had a knowingness about him," Mr. Gordy recalled in a 1994 interview with Billboard magazine. "He paid close attention to every single thing I said. Even when my back was turned, I knew he'd be watching me like a hawk. The other kids might have been playing or doing whatever they were doing, but Michael was dead serious. And he stayed that way."

    Mr. Jackson had his own recollections of those years. "When you're a show-business child, you really don't have the maturity to understand a great deal of what is going on around you. People make a lot of decisions concerning your life when you're out of the room," he wrote in "Moon Walk," his 1988 autobiography. "Berry insisted on perfection and attention to detail. I'll never forget his persistence. This was his genius. Then and later, I observed every moment of the sessions where Berry was present and never forgot what I learned. To this day, I use the same principles."

    Mr. Gordy paid many of Motown's most successful acts, including the Jackson 5, far stingier royalty rates on their albums than they might have earned in a later era, and certainly lower than what Mr. Jackson himself earned during his heyday in the mid-to-late 1980's. According to J. Randy Taraborrelli's 1991 biography, "Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness," Motown paid the Jackson 5 a royalty rate that was just a fraction of what Mr. Jackson secured for himself later in his career.

    "There was a lot of pressure on Michael as a youngster to perform for the family," said Shelly Finkel, a former rock 'n' roll promoter who currently manages professional boxers and who periodically intersected with the Jackson family when Mr. Jackson was a child. "You get a kid like Michael Jackson and he's unsophisticated with his money and people take advantage. It's not a real upbringing. He didn't mature as a human in all directions."

    The Jackson 5 jumped from Motown to CBS Records in 1975, and the company rewarded them with better contracts. They also received guaranteed fees of at least $350,000 per album, according to Mr. Taraborrelli's book, well above their Motown fees but still not approaching the stratospheric, multimillion-dollar guarantees Mr. Jackson would begin getting in the 1980's. Concerts offered another source of income, but it was still income that Mr. Jackson shared with his siblings and upon which his father kept a tight rein.

    Mr. Jackson eventually broke with his father and the Jackson 5, a move toward creative and financial independence marked by his collaborations with Quincy Jones on a trio of albums. The most memorable of those is 1982's "Thriller," which eventually racked up sales of 51 million copies globally, according to the Guinness World Records, making it the best-selling album in history. Yet "Thriller" took a heavy toll, Mr. Jackson's associates say, setting a benchmark of success that the entertainer never stopped chasing.

    Mr. Jackson's pre-expense share of the "Thriller" bounty — including the album, singles and a popular video — surpassed $125 million, according to a former adviser who requested anonymity because of the confidential nature of Mr. Jackson's finances. Those who counseled him in the "Thriller" era credit the pop star with financial acumen and astute business judgment, evidenced by his $47.5 million purchase of the Beatles catalog in 1985 (a move that served to alienate him from Paul McCartney, the Beatles legend who imparted the financial wisdom of buying catalogs to Mr. Jackson during a casual chat, only to see Mr. Jackson then turn around and buy rights to many of Mr. McCartney's own songs).
  3. John Branca, an attorney who structured the purchase for Mr. Jackson and represented him from 1980 to 1990 and periodically after 1993, said he saw no signs of wayward financial behavior in the years straddling the release of "Thriller." "I think Michael was brilliant for a good part of his career — savvy, involved, on top of everything," Mr. Branca said. "I also think he was a marketing genius."

    In the midst of the "Thriller" phenomenon, Mr. Jackson's appetites were still relatively modest by celebrity standards, and he had just begun to experience the possibilities of riches he had never known in his childhood. Acquaintances from that period say that he would occasionally borrow gas money, and he still lived in the Jackson family home in the suburban Encino section of Los Angeles.

    Although he made an unsuccessful attempt in 1987 to buy the bones of Joseph Merrick, more famously known as "The Elephant Man," for $1 million, it wasn't until the end of the 1980's that he began to exhibit more baronial tendencies. In 1988, he made his $17 million purchase of property near Santa Ynez, Calif., that became Neverland.

    At the same time, Mr. Jackson was redefining the concept of spectacle in pop music. He hired Martin Scorsese, the film director, to direct a video for his album "Bad," a clip that one adviser with direct knowledge of the production budget said cost more than $1 million. The same adviser said that Mr. Jackson netted "way north" of $35 million from a yearlong "Bad" tour that began in 1987, and that heading into the 1990's Mr. Jackson was in sound shape financially.

    While Mr. Jackson began to routinely rotate through different teams of advisers in the 90's, and pour more of his own money into pricey projects like videos, at least one of his advisers from the period contends that Mr. Jackson kept a lid on his spending until even the late 1990's.

    "I didn't ever see him take all kinds of people all around the world," said James Morey, who served as one of Mr. Jackson's personal managers from 1990 to 1997 (when Mr. Jackson fired him and turned for advice instead to the Saudi sheik Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal). "Michael is very bright, and Michael pretty much knew — even when he was advised something was too expensive — if he felt it was right for the art, he had the means to pay for it. He wasn't oblivious to what budgets were."

    Other events, however, suggest that Mr. Jackson's finances were already under strain by the mid-90's. He retreated from working regularly after the release of "Dangerous" in 1991 and settled a child-molestation lawsuit for about $20 million. More significantly in terms of his finances, he had to sell Sony a 50 percent stake in the Beatles catalog in 1995 for more than $100 million, which one adviser said helped shore up the singer's wobbling accounts.

    Mr. Jackson wouldn't produce another studio album of completely new material until 2001, yet whenever he surfaced with other works that were compilations of previously released material he still expected promotions and spectacles beyond anything done before. For his 1995 album, "HIStory," for example, he sought to shoot an extravagant "teaser" video to promote it. He shot the video in Hungary for millions of dollars and hired Hungarian soldiers to march in it.

    "When they were shooting this thing in Hungary, the production company would call me in the middle of the night and say, 'Michael wants more troops,' " said Dan Beck, a senior marketing executive who worked on the video. "He dreamed the big dream. It was P. T. Barnum."

    MR. JACKSON indulged in other pricey vanity projects, including what one adviser believes to be the most expensive — a 35-minute film called "Ghosts" that he co-wrote with the novelist Stephen King and shot in 1997 with Stan Winston, a special-effects whiz that cost well above $15 million. One person with direct knowledge of Mr. Jackson's spending said that the star paid a substantial portion of as much as $65 million on video projects in the mid-90's — outlays that contributed significantly to his financial problems.

    Mr. Jackson also came under the sway of an assorted rotation of new advisers who apparently convinced him to make heavy bets on risky investments that never panned out. In late 1996, according to court papers, he met Myung Ho Lee, a Korean adviser who emerged as a central figure in the performer's debt binge.

    Documents indicate that by late 1998, Mr. Jackson had already taken out and depleted a $90 million bank loan and Mr. Lee arranged a new, $140 million loan from Bank of America that was collateralized by the Beatles catalog and used to pay off earlier debts. Just several months later, the $140 million had evaporated and Mr. Jackson, fresh off of his divorce settlement with Lisa Marie Presley, obtained another $30 million line of credit from Bank of America. Mr. Lee said in court papers that in late 2000 he raised the original $140 million bank loan to $200 million, using part of that loan to pay down the $30 million credit line, which had been entirely tapped.
  4. Although documents indicate that Mr. Lee brought at least two risky investment opportunities to Mr. Jackson, Mr. Lee still managed to castigate the performer in court papers for a lack of financial discipline in 1999 and 2000. "Jackson became fixated on obtaining expensive possessions and feeding his ego by listening to the advice of hucksters and imposters," Mr. Lee noted.

    All the while, Mr. Jackson's spending ramped up. As described by several of Mr. Jackson's former associates, he routinely borrowed large sums of cash to pay for things he may not have been able to afford. Marc Schaffel, who formerly served as an adviser on Mr. Jackson's television projects, alleges in a lawsuit scheduled for trial next month that Mr. Jackson failed to reimburse him for outlays of more than $2.2 million, much of it in cash.

    THESE expenses included $46,075 in August 2001 for appraisals and architectural work done as Mr. Jackson considered buying a home in Beverly Hills; a $1 million fee paid to Marlon Brando in September 2001 so that the film star would appear at a Madison Square Garden event and in a video honoring Mr. Jackson; more than $380,000 for the purchase of a Bentley Arnage sport sedan and a custom Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicle; and $250,000 in June 2003 for antique shopping in Beverly Hills.

    Mr. Malnik, who began advising Mr. Jackson a few years ago, said in an interview that the entertainer had spent about $8 million annually on plane charters, antiques, paintings, hotel rooms, travel and other personal expenses, and that the annual upkeep for Neverland and its staff was about $4 million. A forensic accountant who testified in Mr. Jackson's criminal trial last year said that the singer's annual budget in 1999 included about $7.5 million for personal expenses and $5 million to maintain Neverland. None of this explains the scale of Mr. Jackson's borrowing, however, or the rapidity with which he burned through those funds.

    The leading drain on Mr. Jackson's ample resources may have been monumentally unwise investments that apparently produced equally colossal losses. Mr. Malnik estimates that some of Mr. Jackson's advisers squandered $50 million on deals that never panned out — what he describes as amusement-park ideas and "bizarre, global kinds of computerized Marvel comic-book characters bigger than life." Mr. Malnik said that he had loaned Mr. Jackson $7 million, part of which was used to settle various lawsuits related to deals gone awry.

    It's possible that Mr. Jackson's biggest costs may have shifted in early 2000 away from his shopping sprees to simply shouldering enormous monthly interest payments on his debt. According to one executive involved in his affairs, Mr. Jackson was making monthly payments of about $4.5 million in 2005 on $270 million in debt. That works out to an annual interest rate of about 20 percent, a toll more familiar in the worlds of credit cards, subprime lending and loan sharks and not commonly encountered by wealthy people with substantial assets. But Mr. Jackson's wildly errant spending had forced him to confront harsher realities.

    By the time Mr. Jackson finally met with the Sony executives in Dubai last December, his onerous interest payments had left him in a bind. Fortress Investment Group, a New York-based investment group that specializes in distressed debt, bought Mr. Jackson's loans from Bank of America in 2003 after the singer missed some payments. It then began levying high interest rates. Fortress, which did not respond to an interview request, threatened to call its loan on Dec. 20 last year because of Mr. Jackson's delinquency. What especially concerned Mr. Jackson about that, said one person familiar with the talks, was that it was just five days before Christmas.

    TO keep Mr. Jackson afloat, Sony arranged an extension with Fortress and brought in Citigroup and other potential lenders to arrange new financing at a lower rate. At a meeting in London on Valentine's Day earlier this year, Citigroup offered Mr. Jackson a new loan with a 6 percent rate. Citigroup struck a deal because Mr. Jackson agreed to give Sony the right to buy half of Mr. Jackson's 50 percent stake in the Beatles catalog at a future date for about $250 million, providing a backstop for Citigroup if Mr. Jackson defaulted.

    To the amazement of others involved in the talks, Fortress then offered Mr. Jackson the same terms — a measure of how desirable the Beatles catalog has been and continues to be to the various financiers and advisers who have hovered around Mr. Jackson since he bought it two decades ago. By April, a final deal was in place. Citigroup ended up providing a $25 million mortgage on Neverland, most of which Mr. Jackson used to buy back a 5 percent stake in the catalog held by one of his early advisers, Mr. Branca.

    For his part, Mr. Malnik said he thought Mr. Jackson might have been able to continue to afford his lifestyle and errant spending if he had continued to work, but, of course, Mr. Jackson chose to work less and less. "For Michael, it was, whatever he wanted at the time he wanted," Mr. Malnik said. "This was perpetuated over a great number of years. Ultimately, if you don't change the course of things, you get to the end of the day."

    Even at the end of the day, however, some people still remember the beginning. When put on hold, telephone callers to Mr. Gordy's office are treated to the 1971 ballad "Got to Be There," Mr. Jackson's hit on his first album as a solo artist for Motown.
  5. What Happened to the Fortune Michael Jackson Made?

    He spent it on a SLOW SELF-INDULGENT DEATH which took too long to term it suicide.