No Ceilings: Inside Scooter Braun’s Growing Empire

With a roster of superstar artists, an expanding company, and a growing family, the showbiz giant is out to prove that he can juggle it all.

The music industry is dying. Album sales are down. There’s an influx of artists who come and go. Longevity is a thing of the past. These are the type of negative comments that Scooter Braun is immune to. For the 33-year-old talent manager and entrepreneur who helped Justin Bieber, the Wanted, and Ariana Grande rattle the Billboard charts, there is no such thing as impossible odds, only great challenges to overcome. With an insane hustle, the brains for execution, and a discerning eye for talent in both music and the companies he invests in (such as a little car service called Uber), Braun succeeds (more often than not). Now, some 12 years deep into his career, recently married, and with a child on the way, he’s looking to expand his portfolio through TV projects, like his CBS drama Scorpion, and his growing, wide-ranging entertainment and marketing company, SB Projects, which he launched in 2007. Growing his empire while growing his family might seem daunting from the outside, but for Braun, it’s just another challenge he’s excited to rise to.

Early in your career, people said you got lucky discovering Bieber on YouTube. Does your consistent track record since then provide validation for you?
When people say that about you, it means you did your job. My job is not to be the all-star quarterback, but to be the coach. My artists’ wins are their wins, and their losses are my losses. That’s the job, that’s what a coach does. A hundred years from now, people probably won’t even remember me. Am I conscious of [the hate]? Yeah, but it also drives me. I can honestly say that when there’s hate out there, it’s their issue, not mine. I’m having a great time. I’ve got an incredible company, incredible artists, a beautiful wife, and a great family on the way. I’ve got a great life.

How hectic is your daily routine?
There were 10 to 12 years where I averaged two to three hours of sleep a night. There were times when I didn’t go to sleep for two days, but I’d usually crash one Sunday a month for 16 to 18 straight hours, and then I’d be rejuvenated. Now, I try to get six hours of sleep a night and live a healthier lifestyle. I have a rule where once a week I have a date night with my wife, and that’s the time when I put my phone away and have calls forwarded to my assistant in case of emergency. Other than that, she understands what I do. She runs a non-profit organization called “Fuck Cancer,” a movement dedicated to the prevention, early detection, and communication of cancer. So she has a large responsibility and is on call, too. But we make sure to make time for each other.

How difficult is striking that balance between your work and personal life?
Balance in general is difficult, but I refuse to go through life and just have work and not have good balance. I want to be an example, not only to my own children but also to artists and other entrepreneurs, that you can be a workaholic and also be a good husband and good father.

How do you think fatherhood will change your professional life?
My artists depend on me, but when I bring a child into this world that will be the first time in my life somebody is completely depending on my wife and me for his survival. That will be first and foremost my priority. I surround myself with incredible, capable people, and the beautiful part about the artists I’ve chosen to work with, and the artists that have chosen to work with me, is that we share the same family values. Every single one of my clients knows I’m not going to drop the ball on my responsibilities to them, and [they] encourage me to be that father for my son. I’ve always wanted family, so I’ve worked hard since I was a young kid because I knew someday I’d have one and I wanted to make sure I could provide. The idea of doing all this work and not having a family to share it with is not something I’m interested in. I’ve always been driven to be the type of father my father was for me. My kid will make me a better man, and I’ll be more understanding of everything around me because of the man you have to be in order to be a father.

“I’m not interested in the mistakes that people make. I’m interested in how they react to them.”

Two years ago, when I interviewed you for Bieber’s cover story, you both said the only competition he had, or the only person he aspired to be, was Michael Jackson. Do you still feel that way?
It’s funny, I talked to him about this today, and I feel like it’s not competition. You nailed it with aspiration, because when you have to give up that much of your life, it’s only worth it if you can strive to be great. When I was playing basketball in my backyard, I wanted to be Michael Jordan, because when you’re shooting the jumper in the backyard, you don’t want to be the sixth man. With Justin, it’s Michael Jackson and careers like that. But as he becomes more and more of a man each day, the challenge for him is learning who he is. He’s in such an incredible place right now, and he’s excited to share where he is with the world next year. It will shock some people and make others really happy. He’s ready to step up and be the man people want him to be, and he got there on his own time, like all of us did. So, right now, it’s less about Elvis and Michael, and more about him being the man he wants to be.

Is it his music or him personally that will shock people?
It’s one, through his music, and two, through his candor, his openness about what he’s learned in the last year. Things get overblown, but sometimes he makes mistakes—

—That you can’t defend?

Is there one that stuck out and hit you harder than others?
Look, I’m not going to focus on anything specific, but the hardest part is being a little bit older [than your clients], and their actions aren’t necessarily actions you’d [take]. Sometimes it’s frustrating because you think, “I could’ve avoided that” or “I could’ve helped you get through that,” but then you realize that you are the person you are because you went through it, and they need the opportunity to go through it too. And if they do, you’re just supposed to be there to help them rise. I’m not interested in the mistakes that people make. I’m interested in how they react to them. That’s what defines us as adults. Being young, like Ariana and Justin are, they will have opportunities to fall, and they will be defined by how they rise.

Is there one client you wish you had that got away?
Multiple. The big one for me was Macklemore. About a year before he blew up, I started hitting him on Twitter, he wrote back, and we DM’d. One night he sent me “Thrift Shop.” We had this great conversation, and I asked him if he wanted to be signed, but he didn’t want to sign with a label, so it’s not like I missed out or could have done something different. I wish I could have been a part of that ride, but I’m cool with that one getting away because he’s a good dude, someone who completely gets it and has his head on straight. Also, I never got in touch with Lorde. I heard that record and saw her and thought, “I have to message her.” I made the phone call and found out that Jason Flom had signed her two weeks before, but it doesn’t mean I would have been able to sign her anyway.

Photography by Nathaniel Wood

In addition to smart artist signings, you invested in companies like Uber early on. How do you decide which companies to put money into?
I invest in people, not just products. You look at the products, but you should learn about the people you invest in. Some of the companies that I’ve invested in that have done well. I had to make bets on people. Travis Kalanick, who created Uber, and Ryan Graves, who helps run the company, are two of the best guys I know. They’re so passionate and they’re such good dudes. Knowing they’re going to do well makes me smile because they deserve [success].

What are you doing in Hollywood in 2015 and beyond? What are your aspirations?
You know me: I never announce things until they’re done, but I’m working on some pretty big things, and when they come out they will shock the world. I want to wake up every morning and never feel like there’s a ceiling on our creativity, and I want our artists and everyone who works [at SB Projects] to feel the same thing. I want them to wake up every morning and ask, “What cool shit can we do today to push the envelope?” As far as my aspirations in film, in television, in music, and in tech, I just don’t want to be limited, because once you limit yourself, you slowly die and you get bored. You get into that cubicle mentality where you go to work just to go to work. I want people to feel like they go to work to be a part of something great.

In which moguls’ footsteps do you want to follow?
You always have to carve your own lane because time and circumstances are different. I’ve always admired David Geffen. Whether it be in music, film, television, Broadway, or art, he’s played such a [huge] role [in] culture that it inspires me. I’ve become close with others like Lucian Grainge and Jimmy Iovine. Then I look at a guy like Richard Branson, who represents inspiration and taking things to a different level. He wakes up in the morning and says, “What cool shit can I do today?” The thing that inspires me most about him and guys like Jeffrey Katzenberg is that they’re incredible fathers. Their kids are great, hardworking, and they love their father. I look at guys like that and think, “How do you do so much, yet make the time?” I truly admire them, because we have to not only study entrepreneurism but also how to be a good man. We can’t take our checkbooks with us; the only legacy in this world is charity and family.

Editor's Note: Since this interview took place, Scooter Braun and his wife have welcomed their son.

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