Michael S. Ovitz is an American businessman, investor, and philanthropist. He is a talent agent who co-founded Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in 1975 and served as its chairman until 1995. Ovitz later served as President of The Walt Disney Company from October 1995 to January 1997.
Ovitz founded Creative Artists Agency in 1975 along with fellow William Morris Agents Ron Meyer, Bill Haber, Rowland Perkins, and Mike Rosenfeld. Borrowing only $21,000 from a bank, the agents rented a small office, conducting business on card tables and rented chairs, their wives taking turns as agency receptionist.
Under his direction, CAA quickly grew from a start-up organization to the world’s leading talent agency, expanding from television into film, investment banking, and advertising. Ovitz was known for assembling “package deals”, wherein CAA would utilize its talent base to provide directors, actors and screenwriters to a studio, thus shifting the negotiating leverage from the studios to the talent. As CAA rose in stature Ovitz became one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Promoted to President, then to Chairman of the Board, his roles at CAA were numerous. He served as talent agent to Hollywood actors Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Costner, John Belushi, Michael Douglas, Bill Murray, Sylvester Stallone, and Barbra Streisand, as well as directors Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, and Sydney Pollack. He also provided corporate consulting services, helping negotiate several major international business mergers and deals including Matsushita’s acquisition of MCA/Universal, the financial rescue of MGM/United Artists, and Sony’s acquisition of Columbia Pictures. His signing of Coca-Cola as a CAA client from agency McCann-Erickson had a significant impact on the advertising industry. He negotiated David Letterman's move from NBC to CBS, chronicled in the book The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night by Bill Carter.
Ovitz resigned from CAA in 1995 to become president of The Walt Disney Company under chairman Michael Eisner. Ovitz quickly grew frustrated with his role in the company and vague definition of duties. After a tumultuous year as Eisner's second in command, he was dismissed by Eisner in January 1997 and left Disney with a (previously agreed upon) severance package valued at $38 million in cash and an estimated $100 million in stock.
Disney shareholders later sued Eisner and Disney's board of directors for awarding Ovitz such a large severance package. Later court proceedings reflect that Ovitz' stock options were granted when he was hired to induce him to join the company, not granted when he was fired. In 2005 the court upheld Disney's payment.
Ovitz now acts as a private investor who has informally advised the careers of luminaries such as Martin Scorsese. Active in philanthropy, he donated $25 million in 1999 to spearhead fund raising efforts for UCLA's Medical Center, and has contributed significantly to numerous other philanthropic endeavors. A private investor and businessman, his notable activities have ranged from attempts to bring an NFL team to the Los Angeles Coliseum to ventures in online media.
Ovitz is considered among the world's top 200 art collectors. He owns works by Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and many others.
His daughter is New York fashion designer Kimberly Ovitz.
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