Paula Deen is looking to grow her brand again less than a year after being dropped from her high-profile gig at Food Network. Paula Deen Ventures — which includes Paula Deen Foods, Paula Deen Media, Paula Deen Restaurants, Paula Deen Cookware and Paula Deen Home — is being backed by Najafi Media, the deep-pocketed content and distribution subsidiary of Najafi Cos. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it is: Founder and CEO Jahm Najafi was the principal investor and financing partner who with Jeff Berg launched Resolution talent agency in January 2013 — the first major full-service agency start-up in almost two decades. Paula Deen Ventures will be run by retail veteran Steven Nanula, who for the last two years led the development of the Paula Deen Food Company.
Nanula told the Wall Street Journal the company is in talks with TV networks and other possible partners, but no deals have been signed. The WSJ says the investment is from $75 million-$100 million.
Najafi is a former Salomon Bros banker active in real estate and private equity. The Phoenix-based firm has been in the mix of several deals as it adds to its entertainment industry holdings, which include ownership stakes in the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, Direct Brands (BMG Music Service, SkyMall, Columbia House and Book Of The Month Club), and Toronto-based recorded media manufacturer Cinram. “All of us at Najafi Companies have a deep respect for the hard work, unique content and quality products which Paula has built around her brand,” Najafi said today in a release announcing the partnership with Deen. “We know that the enterprise will be successful and valuable, as Paula and her team continue to bring quality products and experiences to her loyal fan base; and now we have a proven management team in place to build and lead the organization.”
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I just obtained a draft copy of Jeff Berg’s news release announcing his Resolution full-service talent and literary agency. There’s not much new compared with what I scooped on Sunday (EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Berg Opens New Agency ‘Resolution’ Monday; UPDATE: Investor ID) except that principal investor Jahm Najafi will serve on Resolution’s Board of Directors:
Jeffrey Berg has announced the formation of Resolution, a new full-service talent and literary agency, which has opened in Los Angeles and New York. Mr. Berg, who served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ICM for 27 years, will be the Chairman of Resolution. Entertainment entrepreneur, film and television producer and music agent Jeff Franklin, will serve as Chief Operating Officer.
“As a founding shareholder, I am delighted to partner with Najafi Companies, a strategic private investment firm in the media industry, and Jeff Franklin, a recognized agent and builder in the music business, to launch Resolution. I look forward to working with an exceptional and diverse team of talents to provide our clients with the highest level of advisory and transactional services.” Mr. Najafi will serve on Resolution’s Board of Directors along with Mr. Berg and Mr. Franklin. Jahm Najafi, CEO of Najafi Companies added, “There is no smarter, strategic and knowledgeable agent than Jeff Berg. We look forward to sharing and building this progressive agency in an evolving entertainment marketplace.”
“We are fortunate to have Jahm and his team as our financial partners,” Mr. Berg said. “They are respected and experienced investors who share our passion for the worldwide entertainment community and bring deep critical industrial insights to our company.”
Mr. Franklin added, “With new office space secured and construction completed, our focus is to now expand the recruitment of agents to create a new enduring institution in our industry. Resolution will be active in all of the critical entertainment areas: film, television, theater, music, literary publishing, digital media, and marketing consultation.”
Resolution will focus on the core functions of talent representation but will also provide a wide range of financial and advisory services including the sale of libraries and catalogues, financial transactions for media companies, raising capital for independent and studio films, providing restructuring advice and the sale and licensing of independently financed films and television series to the domestic and international markets.
“After a long run at my former company, I want to re-engage in a new business again as an owner-operator, and Jahm and Jeff became my logical partners,” Mr. Berg stated. “Resolution has a business plan that allows for internal growth, and it also has the committed capital for outside strategic acquisitions.”
The executive team will include former WME Vice President of Finance and Controller Laura Li who will become Resolution’s Chief Financial Officer; former Universal Pictures and MGM senior international marketing and distribution executive Randy Greenberg who will serve as Co-Head of Operations and Business Development; and former Universal Pictures Executive-Vice President of Business Affairs and former CEO of Intermedia Pictures Jon Gumpert will act as General Counsel and Head of Business Affairs.
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EXCLUSIVE UPDATE 7 PM: I can now reveal the identity of Jeff Berg’s principal investor and financial partner. His name is Jahm Najafi, a former Salomon Bros banker active in real estate and private equity with investments in diverse companies and brands. According to news reports, he isn’t in the deal-making stratosphere, but the CEO of Phoenix-based private equity firm Najafi Companies is in the mix of many high-profile deals. MORE BELOW
EXCLUSIVE 1:54 PM: Inside 1801 Century Park East on the entire 23rd floor, Jeff Berg‘s new full-service Resolution agency capitalized with about $200 million is opening its doors on Monday. The offices are still being painted and the bathrooms are a work in progress. But the longtime ICM Chairman at age 65 just moved into the new space this weekend now that the phones and Internet are up and running and the conference room is finished. Today he’s calling clients. He’s already more than a week ahead of schedule. Over the next six months, Hollywood and New York and Nashville will witness a series of announcements about agents being hired from the top tenpercenteries and midlevel executives being culled from the Industry. Most are still in secret negotiations on Resolution contracts, others are signing non-disclosure agreements, several are in the process of being raided, and still more are daily dialing Berg to inquire about coming over. Their own companies don’t know they’re even contemplating departures. There hasn’t been a major full-service agency start-up like this since Endeavor was formed in 1995 by four former ICM agents who left Berg et al in a midnight stealth. Resolution will keep making headlines as Berg slowly builds his film/TV/talent/literary/music/publishing/digital tenpercentery to an anticipated staffing level of 35 agents plus support staff in LA, 25 agents in NYC, and 10 agents in Nashville. He’s still not settled on his Manhattan office, looking at a variety of spaces in Midtown, Downtown, Chelsea. “He’ll figure that out,” an insider tells me.
It only took him 8-to-10 weeks to set up Resolution doing it primarily by mobile phone, a gmail account, and temporary digs. Berg already has Resolution’s executive infrastructure put together: his COO will be his new partner, former music agent Jeff Franklin, CFO will be former William Morris Agency Finance Director Laura Li, and chief counsel will be former Universal Business Affairs’ Jonathan Gumpert (father of Andrew Gumpert who runs business affairs at Sony Pictures). Still to come is a “people person” senior agent who will function as the catalyst to help keep morale at a high level — because no one knows better than Iceberg what his reputation was and still is. I understand that Berg and Franklin went far with a top CAA senior agent who ultimately stayed put.
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