Hollywood Chews on CAA’s French Connection: Artemis Deal Is Big Win for Leadership Trio But What About Clients and Senior Staff?

A studio head once told me that CAA’s top three leaders – Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane and Richard Lovett – had claws beneath their velvet gloves. It was a backhanded compliment, as the CEO was praising the trio’s devotion to their incredibly famous clients while also bemoaning their hard-driving negotiating style.

Those gloves will now be made by one of the biggest luxury fashion houses in the world, as the mega-agency sold a majority stake to Francois-Henri Pinault’s family investment fund Artemis this week. In a still-incomplete transaction, the French billionaire has snatched up controlling interest in the legendary talent shop and will nestle it in a portfolio that includes Gucci, Saint Laurent and the thousand-dollar–a-bottle winery Château Latour.

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It’s impeccable brand placement for CAA, whose clients include Zendaya, Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and sports stars like Dwayne Wade. And in any other Hollywood but the one we’re living in – in which production has been grounded by labor strife between the major studios and the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA – the sale of a majority stake in CAA to a Paris-based entrepreneur would be an earth-shattering event.

Lourd, Huvane and Lovett have been charting this course for the agency since they took the reins from the CAA’s founding fathers in 1995. As their longtime rival WME hulked up and went public under Ari Emanuel’s stewardship, CAA has been looking to transact in a wildly unpredictable landscape over recent years — particularly after ingesting ICM Partners in 2022.

“This transaction is incredible in terms of the numbers attached. It proves that the guys who took over in 1995 knew what they were doing, and it was a miracle they kept that place together in their first year,” James Andrew Miller told Variety. He literally wrote the book on CAA, 2016’s “Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency.”

Among rival agency leaders, some were impressed by the deal, saying the entry of a nontraditional buyer such as a retail giant is good for the overall talent representation sector. “It’s a great deal for the (CAA) guys and it’s good for the business,” said a senior WME rep.

Miller refers to the $7 billion valuation CAA has achieved with the Artemis deal — even more impressive that it comes at a time when CAA’s small army of agents can’t broker deals on behalf of actors or writers because of the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. The CAA transaction has been in the water since May, when Lourd showed up in person to a star-studded dinner at the Cannes Film Festival hosted by Pinault’s fashion group Kering. He was looking to find a buyer for the majority stake in CAA that has been owned by private equity giant TPG since 2014. With the high-priced sale came new contracts for the ruling CAA triumvirate. Lourd has been elevated to a newly created CEO post. That move was described as to be in keeping with the management structure at other Artemis and Pinault-run companies. Lourd, Huvane and Lovett have spent a lot of time in recent days assuring clients and others that they have every intention of remaining hands-on, day-to-day agents as well.

Numerous high-level insiders that spoke with Variety said the Lourd promotion was essential to how Pinault does business, as three managing partners atop the structure would not work under their new European ownership. The three agents have always been kingmakers in this town, but Lourd in the past decade has emerged as an industry statesman. Notably so in 2021, when he made a rare public move to criticize a then-unquestionable Walt Disney Co. for its “shameless” public attack on his client Scarlett Johansson. She sued for adequate compensation after her Marvel film “Black Widow” premiered simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ in that pandemic-struck year.

“Bryan is very comfortable on the world stage. People used to tell me he would say, ‘Forget it’ and hang out in New York and go to the theater. But no, he still cares about clients and the company. He’s amassed a lot of influence and power and that’s a hard thing to give up on,” Miller observed.

The question of clients is top of mind for many of CAA’s agent and management colleagues, as CAA and WME, under owner Endeavor, continue to expand and diversify far from their core representation businesses.

“Clients will be asking how their agents are going to have more time and focus for them when the companies are getting bigger and agents are being pulled in even more directions,” one top dealmaker said on the condition of anonymity. The rep also noted that agents will have the “added lure” of Pinault’s flashy portfolio in seeking new clients, potentially leaving some legacy talent on the back burner. There also may be less immediate paths to top leadership for some of CAA’s younger internal stars like Maha Dakhil and media finance whiz Roeg Sutherland, should they want them.

What’s irrefutable is that a company like CAA has and needs “a seat at the table that’s going to create the architecture for the next era in Hollywood – and not just Hollywood, a global play,” said Miller.

One of the most interesting takeaways in conversations with five different industry insiders – sectors ranging from publicity to private wealth management – is the increased spotlight on actor Salma Hayek, who is married to Pinault. The Oscar nominee and fashion icon is already a CAA client, and counts Lourd and Dakhil on her team. Many speculated, however, that this new business alliance will further elevate the stature of the star in global media circles.

“Salma now runs Hollywood,” one source joked via text with a smiley face emoji.

(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)

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