Joel and Rob Mandel are two brothers who work as business managers for some of the hottest names in entertainment. While most business managers are accountants, Joel and Rob started out as lawyers, bringing a broader perspective to the field. Their firm also benefits from the unique, yet complementary, talents of each brother. In their mid-40's, they make a great team, both in and out of the office.
Aish.com interviewed them in their office in Beverly Hills.
Aish.com: What was your family dynamic?
Rob: We grew up in a very American city but in a very European environment. Our father is a concentration camp survivor from Poland and he ran our home like a typical European household.
Joel: Again, very traditional. Dad worked, Mom was responsible for the house and the kids. Everything that you needed, Mom took care of. She spoiled us that way.
Aish.com: No wonder you can't find a wife! Who's going to do what Mom did?
Rob: One of the benefits of our upbringing was that there was a strong work ethic. Our father was the leader of the household. He wanted to make sure that we succeeded in America -- to work hard, have a good education, and be a financial success. And he put a lot of pressure on us.
Joel: He was quick to show his pleasure in our accomplishments.
Aish.com: Did you want to please him?
Rob: Of course. The dynamics of children of survivors are pretty well documented. There was a lot of pressure on us to be the family that my dad had lost. He was 13 when the war started and he lost his three brothers, his sister and both his parents.
Joel: Just to complete the picture, we've always been extremely close with our father. We have a very warm and affectionate relationship. Yet pleasing Dad was a very important part of any decision we made. That was true at age four and at 14, and it's still true today. But despite his being tough and having high expectations, we just love him.
Rob: He really respected us. He wouldn't make any major decision in his life, even when I was a young child, unless he asked for my opinion. Which sort of leads us to the business we're in now -- of helping people manage their lives.
Aish.com: Tell us about your business.
Rob: Our dad gave us a $20,000 gift to start our business and we never had to ask for another dime, because we followed our father's philosophy. You don't spend more money than you have, you don't take salaries that you haven't earned. We're very conservative and we were willing to build our business slowly.
Joel: We started this business management company about 13 years ago. We were both lawyers, but we knew there was a limit to the financial success we could achieve, and we knew that someone else would always be our boss. We had friends in the entertainment business and we started hearing about business management. There weren't a lot of barriers to entry and we thought we had the appropriate skill sets, and we both enjoyed the role of advice-giver…
Rob: Joel had a few good friends from high school who always came to us for business advice. At one point they said they were going to have to hire a business manager. And they figured: "Why pay someone else when they always come to us for advice anyway?" So they said, "Why don't you guys think about becoming business managers?" And we looked at each other and said, "Well, okay."
Joel: So we had two clients... we hired a bookkeeper... and we got very lucky. There was a lawyer representing one of our first clients who I also went to high school with. He took us around Hollywood and introduced us to a lot of people.
Rob: Also, I would spend my nights on the set where my clients were working. So I met a lot of people and made connections that way. Our business in the beginning was largely TV writers and producers.
Joel: Today we mostly represent people who work behind the scenes -- those who write, produce and direct television and film, and executives who run studios.
Aish.com: Tell us more specifically about your role as a business manager.
We buy their houses, we buy their cars, we do their tax returns, we negotiate their contracts.
Rob: A business manager is a hybrid of personal assistant, bookkeeper, accountant and attorney. It provides services for someone who doesn't want to be bothered with the business side of their life. So a business manager does everything -- bills come to our office and we pay them, paychecks come here and we bank them. On a higher level, we make sure they have the right insurance coverage for everything -- home, car and life, the appropriate estate planning products; we make sure their investment portfolio is adequately diversified for their age, degree of risk and so on. We buy their houses, we buy their cars, we do their tax returns, we help negotiate their contracts. It really runs the gamut from basic everyday services to very complicated life issues.
Aish.com: How are you distinguished from other business managers?
Rob: Most people who do what we do are CPAs, people who have worked their way up from the accounting field. I was a practicing tax lawyer and Joel was a practicing transaction lawyer, and with that background we have been successful in helping our clients with a broad spectrum of issues - tax, transactional, etc.
Aish.com: How do you balance your personal needs with that of your business? Aren't you constantly on call?
Rob: The only way you can do this business well is if you treat your client the way you would treat yourself. If my hot water heater breaks, I have to immediately deal with it. The same is true if my client's hot water heater breaks. Everything that you would do to support your own family, we do for our clients. Emergency needs and life issues don't just occur 9-to-5. They occur 24/7. And when things happen, we need to be involved.
Aish.com: Doesn't your family resent these intrusions?
Rob: I tell my kids all the time when I get interrupted: "Fortunately this is how we get to live the lifestyle we live." It's not a negative. I thank God that I'm able to get that call at an inopportune moment because it means that people want my services.
Aish.com: How do you deal with ethical issues that arise?
Joel: Here are our two red lines: We're never going to do anything that's illegal, and every time something comes up where our interests and the interests of our client are potentially at odds, we take the interpretation that is most favorable to our client.
Rob: And we talk to a rabbi. Let me tell you, before we started studying Torah, the only thing we were concerned about was, "Are we doing anything that is in violation of United States or California law?" Now, studying Torah has made our business life more challenging. Everything's risen to a different level of scrutiny.
Aish.com: Give us an example of an ethical dilemma.
Joel: One very specific issue that arises constantly is lashon hara, speaking negatively about others. The entertainment industry can force you to work among people who are boldly critical and manipulatively negative.
We sit down together and say, "How do we communicate this without violating the laws of lashon hara?"
We spend a lot of time discussing and working on not speaking lashon hara, because it's so easy to violate this every day. We literally sit down together and say, "This is the situation. How do we communicate this without violating the laws of lashon hara?"
Aish.com: What are some other ethical issues?
Joel: For instance: What if the guy on the other side doesn't understand the value of what he has? How much can I use my knowledge to someone's detriment?
Rob: How much advantage can I take of someone? If I negotiate a very good deal for my client, I may be hurting someone on the other side. These are big moral issues. Because of course I have an obligation to my client. I've been hired to do the best I can for him.
Aish.com: Hollywood is notoriously competitive. Undoubtedly, if you don't get your client the best deal, there are other business managers waiting to pounce.
Joel: I would say that if you looked at the entertainment industry there aren't a lot of people fretting over whether or not to speak lashon hara!
Rob: We've had occasions where clients have asked us to do some things that are not illegal, but certainly don't seem moral. They are certainly within their legal rights... but morally, that's where the real challenge lies.
Joel: We may be asked to say something in the context of negotiations that is not true. In such a case we feel it's our obligation to turn to our client and say, "I will not say that," or "I will not make that phone call." We do that all the time. You can draw those lines.
Aish.com: When you tell clients that you won't lie for them, how do they respond?
Joel: With rare exceptions, people are embarrassed. Usually they haven't used the word "lie." They say things like "Can't you just say…?" But saying "no" usually doesn't jeopardize the relationship.
Rob: Because the most important thing we have -- our dad taught us this -- is our reputation. We would never do anything to jeopardize our reputation.
The good news is that most of our clients over the years have become friends, people you can have conversations with and explain your perspective to.
Joel: Although when people express desires that represent misplaced values -- greed, self-absorption, etc. -- in my experience I don't think it's helpful to engage in a discussion about those values. It's not a place you can productively go.
Yet still a lot of our clients know what our priorities are. They know there are events I can't attend because I'm having Shabbat dinner, or that certain hours are set aside for Torah study. People understand that Judaism has become a part of our lives in a way that was different when they first met us, and they tend to be more cautious and respectful.
Rob: I actually think it's only been a tremendous positive.
Aish.com: Now let's talk about you as brothers. Did you two always get along?
Rob: We were always best friends.
Aish.com: Don't you ever drive each other crazy?
Rob: Sometimes we do. We're like a married couple. The key is that we work together as a unit. We complement each other in our personal and professional lives.
Aish.com: How does your complementing each other work to the business' benefit?
Joel: A strength of my brother's is the ability to confront difficult issues very directly, in a way that I would call courageous. I have the ability to deal with others issues in a diplomatic way.
Rob: I think that there is no smarter businessman out there than Joel. There is no one better at getting people into a room and knowing how to get them from Point A to Point B in a way in which everyone is happy. All sides will leave a difficult meeting embracing each other in a way you didn't think was possible. Yet our clients get the desired result. It's a unique ability that I don't have.
Aish.com: Tell us about life beyond the business.
We achieved some degree of financial security. But what's the real meaning of life?
Rob: We have to feel good about what we do as human beings, and not just what we do for a living. We were as obsessed about making money as our dad was, and thank God we have achieved some degree of financial security. We turned to each other and said, "Okay, what's the real meaning of life?"
Aish.com: Was there a specific moment when that introspection began?
Rob: I think of it as a process but for me, clearly more so after my wife got cancer. Then you really see how temporary things are. I began to try to appreciate every moment, cliché as that sounds, and make each minute count. My biggest fear is that my children will grow up without a mother and it forces me to further develop my role as a father.
Aish.com: How has your financial success impacted your personal life?
Joel: A measure of success tends to encourage introspection. I came to a time in my life when it began to bother me that I didn't have a clear sense of my Jewish identity. Aish has been the perfect solution to that, simultaneously non-judgmental, while encouraging me to keep moving forward and growing.
Aish.com: Any personal projects for the future?
Joel: I feel like one of things I'm here for is to help Israel and the Jewish people. I had a taste in the last year of the kind of impact a person can have if you make a commitment. Besides Aish, I'm involved with Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, because I strongly believe in the power of education to make a difference, especially in the state of Israel, where "human capital" is one of the great resources. I'm also very active in AIPAC because I think it's crucial for American-Israel relations. As my Jewish identity continues to grow, I want to play a greater role in making a difference. That is our responsibility as Jews.