“Be the change you want to see in the world,” is the plaque that greets those who enter Manny Halley’s 11th floor office in a posh, 24-hour access downtown Los Angeles building. With expansive views of the city and a modest office library with books that include The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, and Donald S. Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business, it is his command center for the empire he’s fashioning. Halley is far from the typical image or behavior of what many might expect of a hip-hop music executive. He’s not at the clubs. He doesn’t have an entourage. He’s rarely in the gossip blogs—well, except once when Keyshia Cole, his client of eight years, tweeted that they were parting ways. “There’s nothing you can do when you get that call that they don’t want to work with you anymore,” he offers. “I leave it in God’s hands. It’s part of my growth. We both helped each other out.”
Other than that, the Brooklyn native of Guyanese parentage who sowed his seeds in the music business by promoting artists through his local hair salon in the ’80s has been quietly and strategically building Imani Entertainment Group. The umbrella company for a variety of his businesses includes publishing (through a deal with Warner/Chappell, he owns 75 songs); recording (he has established a label distribution deal with EMI/Capitol through which he owns his masters); artist management (he recently teamed with the Blueprint Group in a management deal with Nicki Minaj); television and film (Halley and Cole executive produced her reality show, Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is, and its spinoff, Frankie and Neffe). He recently bought the film rights to Teri Woods’ True to the Game and Dutch, which he intends to develop as films this year. “It’s crazy,” says Halley of the range and complexity of the projects he’s handling, “but the good thing is I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.””
New Business. Halley’s latest business interest is restaurants. In 2009, in partnership with Stratis Morfogen, CEO of the Philippe Chow Restaurant Group, which has restaurants in New York, Miami, and Mexico City, he opened Philippe in L.A. The restaurant, featuring Asian cuisine, struggled from the beginning and after the first six months, the group decided to close it. “It was bleeding,” says Halley, “but I wanted to buy everybody out. I wanted to own it and give the restaurant a fair shot.” It cost Halley an additional seven figures from his original investment. He cut costs, closely monitored supplies, reduced staffing, and installed his wife, Yolanda, to oversee management. In the last year, with a regular stream of celebrities that include Jay Leno, Oprah Winfrey, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony, he’s been able to see the growth and stability. “It’s leveling out and breaking even. I’m here for staying power. I feel good about it.” By midsummer, Halley will be relocating his restaurant from West Hollywood to Beverly Hills. The new location will have two levels with 3,600 square feet.
Family First. Halley and his wife have two children. Manny Jr., 16, is home-schooled, and an aspiring rapper. His 18-year-old daughter, Iyana, is attending college and majoring in business. “Family is the backbone and the foundation; it’s the structure. Family is really important to me. When your house is in order, you can conquer anything.”
Work ethic. Halley maintains that although he knew very little about each business he’s developed, his success is the result of hard work and dedication. “I tell my artists, ‘I am going to outwork you. I’ll be up before you and you’ll always be able to find me. If you can’t, it’s because I’m in church from 12 to 2 on Sunday or in the air with no Wi-Fi.’ “I like working with people and getting things done,” he continues. “Whether it’s the restaurant business, servicing customers, or management—taking care of a client day-to-day, whatever it is, I really appreciate working. It’s a blessing.”