Leading by Example
Ken Slevin joined the talent agency CESD in 1982 as an agent after falling into the industry in 1978.
Ken was selling municipal bonds when his sister-in-law, who worked at a talent agency, told him “I think you’d love this.”
His work ethic led him to climb the ranks from agent, executive vice president, to president of CESD.
Making His Mark
Ken started at the company when it was Cunningham & Associates. Bill Cunningham met with Ken in 1982 and hired him on the spot.
“I’ve always been a very proactive, take-no-prisoners, iron-hand-in-a-velvet-glove kind of guy,” Ken says.
He took charge early on in his career. He brought computers into the company, researched what software to get, and brought in a phone system.
“I just spoke up,” says Ken. “I was very vocal about how I felt about things.”
Ken grinded through the early ‘90s. He pulled out all the stops to reach talent and brought many people to the agency. He began running the New York office in 1995. (CESD originated in Hollywood and has an office there as well.)
“There was no Facebook back then,” Ken says. “It wasn’t as easy to find people as it is currently.”
In 2005 Ken bought CESD with his partner, Paul Doherty, who is based in Los Angeles. Today they have 75 employees including 35 agents.
“I have a good way of maintaining the tradition of the agency and changing the direction of the company,” Ken says.
Given the advent of the Internet and rapid changes in the industry, the model of the business changed.
Ken created a social media committee within the company, which collectively created a social media campaign. CESD also added several departments including dance, puppeteers, comedy, and most recently digital advertising.
“When I heard the term ‘digital advertising,’ I called all the people I know in the business to learn what it was,” says Ken. “I called ad agencies and talked to young people in the office. I had a thirst to know what was happening so I could educate myself and figure out what to do.”
Along with a drive to stay current, Ken is dedicated to staying involved in the industry. He is president of NATR the National Association of Talent Representatives and on the board of ATA, the Association of Talent Agents.
An Inclusive Company Culture
Ken believes communication is key at CESD. Everyone is involved and everyone has a say in the company.
“I don’t operate in a vacuum,” Ken says. “Given the speed of change that is going on, how can anyone these days?”
Ken consistently speaks with his millennial employees (and his own kids) to find out what’s happening.
“When social media became hot, I jumped head first into it,” says Ken. “I found the most social media active person in the office and got a tutorial from a 23 year old. I want to hear from these young people.”
Ken wants everyone to feel part of the process. The team has open, philosophical conversations. Employees discuss where they want the company to go, what they are lacking, and how the company can improve performance.
Ken encourages healthy debate. “I let everyone speak,” he says. “I want to consider everything.”
CESD tries to hire people who will bring in different views.
As an avid Broadway fan, Ken is especially proud that 25 CESD-represented people are now on Broadway. His favorite show is Hamilton.