Mark Landesman is the luckiest accountant you’ll ever meet — or at least that’s what he tells people.
For nearly 40 years, he’s been building one of the most successful business management firms in the industry. Luck clearly isn’t the only reason for his success, but it certainly hasn’t hurt. “That luck factor was more important than you can imagine coming from Queens, going to Queens College, because I didn’t have the opportunity to go to a big school.”
Landesman started his career as an intern at a CPA firm that had a small entertainment division, including clients from the original cast of Saturday Night Live. That’s where he met the man who’d change his career, a young comedian named Eddie Murphy. “He was client number one,” Landesman recalls. “And, honestly, Eddie was my luck.”
Not long after working as the accountant on Murphy’s 1986 Rawtour, and still in his 20s, Landesman launched ML Management. That first relationship led Landesman to working with his next two clients, Arsenio Hall and Chris Rock, and building a reputation as “a guy who knows how to do comedy accounting.” There’s really no such thing, he says, but it stuck anyway. “Fast-forward to today, and we probably have the largest comedic roster of anybody in the business.”
Hall, who’s still a client, also mentions luck but says he’s on the receiving end when it comes to their relationship. “Mark Landesman is my friend of 35 years and the only business manager I’ve ever had,” he tells THR. “I met him in a New York elevator. Lucky me!”
ML Management partner Paul Zukowsky first met Landesman in the 1980s when they were CPAs at a firm in midtown Manhattan. “He started his career at 26, 27, working with some of the biggest names in the industry,” Zukowsky recalls. “It’s rare at his young age, but people trusted him.”
They stayed in touch, and decades later, when Zukowsky needed a career change, they reunited at ML in 2001 when the firm had just a handful of staff. Now it has more than 50 employees and about 200 clients — two dozen of them, give or take, are current or past SNL stars.
“Mark is funny and he’s able to relate to his clients,” Zukowsky says. “It takes a smart brain and it takes a big heart to understand what our clients are going through, and he has that.”
Jessica Mooney, now COO of ML Management, has worked at the firm for 20 years after being hired right out of college to work the front desk and considers Landesman a mentor. She’s continually impressed with his ability to stay calm under pressure and his willingness to dive into the weeds on clients’ issues.
“He’s not just in the corner office, feet up on the table, having lunches and playing golf,” Mooney says. “He is in the trenches with everyone.” She continues, “The biggest thing over the years — without being specific to one client because I’ve seen it on many clients — is his ability to stay so calm, cool and collected in the face of crazy stuff. From good to bad, divorces and moves and money trouble or huge, crazy, earth-breaking deals. He’s just such an even-keeled guy.”
One particular move paid off in a big way for two of his clients, and Landesman says encouraging them to make the leap is one of the highlights of his career.
“I had these two young clients who were writers on The David Letterman Show. Their names were Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, and they were in their late 20s. They wanted to move to L.A. to go to the next phase of their career. I remember saying, ‘If you’re going to do this, do it now. Life gets complicated with children, marriage. You could easily move.’ They moved to L.A., and one of the first things they did was they created a little TV show called How I Met Your Mother. They hit it out of the park.”
They surely remember it, too. “For a quarter of a century now, Mark has been a trusted friend who has kept a steady hand on the tiller of my finances,” Bays tells THR. “I’m so grateful for the guidance and calm he’s offered over the years — especially in those scary moments when the rest of the world is in a panic. At this point, I’ve practically internalized him; my ‘inner ML’ is always talking to me, keeping me on the straight and narrow.”
Talent lawyer Jared Levine, who also reps Bays and Thomas, has seen it firsthand. “He’s not just waiting for the money to come in,” Levine says. “It is my job to point out certain things and he’d often be ahead of me.”
Eric Suddleson, another talent lawyer who shares clients with Landesman, agrees. “High-level clients [are] demanding in lots of ways, and he bends over backward to be accommodating,” Suddleson says, also describing Landesman as collaborative and user-friendly. “He’s a guy you can have a conversation with and feel comfortable with. He has an easy way about him — it’s an intangible thing that I think clients respond to.”
As Landesman tells it, he never really decided to go into this line of work. “My mother told my brother and I that he’ll be a lawyer and I’ll be an accountant,” Landesman says. “So I had no choice, and then my wife takes credit also because she made me study for the CPA exam.”
They’ve been married since 1984. “She’s been here the entire ride,” he notes. They have two adult children — one of whom followed in his footsteps.
“When I was very young, I didn’t really understand what he did,” Scott Landesman says, recalling what he thought of his dad’s job when he was a kid. “As I got older, I started to understand the complexity of his job and who he worked with, and I remember always being impressed. I saw my dad’s work ethic, I saw his success, and I hoped that I’d be able to work with him one day.”
That day came nearly a decade ago, when Scott joined ML Management.
“Just like me, he didn’t have a choice,” Mark says with a smile. “He is me. I laugh because I see things that he has done — or does — that is exactly what I did years ago. He’s on his own, doing his thing, and it makes me proud.”
Being the boss’ son isn’t exactly easy, but they’ve gotten closer both in and outside the office because of their work together. You won’t catch Scott calling him “Dad,” though.
“He’s Mark at work or he’s ML,” Scott says. “It’s much more than a father-son relationship. He’s my mentor. He’s my business partner as well, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in my life.”
When he’s not advising clients, Landesman does indeed enjoy golf — but, his favorite activity is spending time with his grandkids. One was born last year, and the other just last month. “That is my favorite thing to do,” he says. “I’m fortunate that I’ve got a very tight-knit family, and we like spending time with each other.”
After all these years, he feels lucky to still love his job, too.
“There’s a lot of smart people out there,” Landesman says. “But, when you get that luck factor, you have to wake up and say, ‘This is a lucky moment, now what do I do with it?’ ”
This story first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.