Wall Street Journal: Scooter Braun’s Hit Factory

Scooter Braun has shaped the careers of worldwide stars from Justin Bieber to Ariana Grande. Now the man behind the music is evaluating his own next act.

Sporting a black hoodie, gray board shorts and white Adidas Yeezy Boost sneakers, Scooter Braun—top talent manager to Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Kanye West—buzzes into the SB Projects offices in West Hollywood, a former residence overflowing with start-up energy and 42 employees. Braun’s face is framed by a several-day scruff and a baseball cap emblazoned with The Life of Pablo, the title of West’s most recent album. “I guess I’m a super fanboy now,” he says. “He makes great merch.”

A short while later, Braun, 36, calls his content team into his office, crowded with Grammys and other statues, platinum albums, music memorabilia and fine-art photography. As they fill the L-shaped couch, he settles into an armchair facing them. The meeting is about developing a streaming show for a major tech-media company (the name of which Braun isn’t publicly disclosing), and Braun doesn’t waste any time laying out his expectations: “I want to go in there with, ‘Here’s our show—this is exactly what we’re doing. If you guys want it, here it is. If you don’t, we’re going to take it somewhere else.’ ”

The prospective online series is a vehicle for Lewis Howes, a social-media-savvy, small-town midwesterner and former arena league football player whose brand of inspirational self-help has gained a sizable following thanks to appearances on Ellen, podcasts and a best-selling book, The School of Greatness. “Don’t let this go to your head,” Braun says, turning to Howes before addressing the group as a whole. “He’s a male Oprah. I really see Lewis as having that opportunity, so I want to pour our resources into this show, because if we nail it it’s going to be massive.”

Braun sits back and yields the floor. He gives everyone in the room space to opine, peppering the conversation with questions and occasionally reining in the brainstorming. When several ideas veer too high-concept, he interjects: “It can still be very simple and achieve greatness. Simplicity is what makes good shows.”

Best known as the man who discovered a 12-year-old Bieber on YouTube and made Psy’s “Gangnam Style” a global phenomenon, Braun is a polymathic businessman in bro clothing. “I want to build an asset-driven business, and I want to make my clients a part of everything I’m doing,” Braun says. “Go into the branding business, consumer products, food, apparel. We need to expand in those places.”

BRAUN’S BROOD Scooter Braun with, clockwise from top left: his parents and siblings; his wife, Yael Braun; Kanye West; Justin Bieber. PHOTO: CLOCKWISE ROM LEFT: THE BRAUN FAMILY; JOHN SALANGSANG/INVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS; BEN ROSE/WIREIMAGE; SCOOTER BRAUN

Braun has already made SB Projects into a diversified operation. There is the talent management wing: In addition to Bieber, Grande and pop acts like The Wanted and Black Eyed Peas, Braun’s stable of clients has expanded to include EDM artists (Martin Garrix, Steve Angello), acoustic singer-songwriters (Tori Kelly), country acts (Dan + Shay), hip-hop artists (West and up-and-comer Vic Mensa), R&B performers (Usher) and even a supermodel excited about coding (Karlie Kloss). There’s Schoolboy Records and there’s Sheba Publishing, SB’s songwriting arm. There is a production division for movies (including Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, the highest-grossing concert film in history) and television (CBS ’s Scorpion), with some 30 projects in development. One, according to reports, is a singing competition show being developed with CBS to go up against The Voice and the newly rebooted American Idol.

Then there is the bedrock of Braun’s empire, an entity that’s not public-facing in any way: Ithaca, Braun’s holding company. Through it he owns SB Projects and stakes in a number of companies (including seven of the country’s biggest music management firms) and runs a venture capital fund that began with $120 million in 2010 and has seeded numerous enterprises Braun won’t reveal. The only thing as secretive as Ithaca’s investing partners is the investments themselves. “The biggest pieces of my business are not public,” Braun says. “Maybe I’ll tell all the details when I’m 50 or 60.”

This late May day is slightly busier than most because he is preparing to leave for a vacation to Spain and Italy with his wife of three years, Yael Braun, the co-founder and CEO of the charitable organization Fuck Cancer, and their two sons, Jagger, 2, and 11-month-old Levi. He has a series of conference calls, check-ins with each department and a budget meeting at Universal Music Group (the distributor for Schoolboy Records). As he walks me out, he tells me he has a handful of one-on-one calls to make first. Most pressing among them are touching base with Bieber, who is en route to Europe following a tour date in South Africa; and with Grande, or someone on her Dangerous Woman Tour team, to make sure everything is in order. The former Nickelodeon star turned pop siren has a concert in Manchester, England, that is about to start.

Thirteen days later, the world discovered Braun’s true voice as it cracked with emotion. As more than 250 million viewers across the globe watched the One Love Manchester concert, Braun strode onstage and addressed the crowd of 55,000 at Manchester’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Less than two weeks earlier, a suicide bomber had killed 22 and injured more than 250—many of them children and young teens—outside Grande’s concert at Manchester Arena.

After a series of thank-yous, Braun choked up paying tribute to the courage of those who came out just a day after another terror attack, this one on London Bridge. “You looked fear right in the face and said, ‘No—we are Manchester, and the world is watching,’ ” Braun said, his image projected on a pair of four-story-high screens. “Hatred will never win! Fear will never divide us!”

Although the concert was its own defiant statement of unity, the event needed some sort of benediction, which Braun delivered extemporaneously except for the help of a few notes on his iPhone. “I planned to prepare, but I never had 15 minutes to myself,” he says at his home in Los Angeles in mid-July, recalling the breakneck 10-day planning period. “I didn’t sleep for six days. When I went out there, it was pure adrenaline.”

Although he’d hit on the idea of a benefit concert shortly after the attack, Braun knew any discussion of it would have to wait. “Ariana, rightfully so, was distraught,” he says. “She was like, ‘I don’t think I could ever sing these songs again.’ ” Braun was in discussions about canceling the rest of her tour, which was scheduled to run into September, when he got a message from Grande asking him to call her. When Braun reached her, he recalls, “She said, ‘I’ve been thinking a lot, and if we don’t do something, everyone will have died in vain. So what’s your idea?’ ”

Braun laid out his vision: “I’d like to do a show, invite the families and make a stand, first and foremost, now—not months from now.” His idea to pull the show together quickly was at first met with skepticism if not outright disapproval. Even Grande questioned if it was insensitive to move so swiftly. “Everyone said, ‘It’s too soon. There are still people to be buried,’ ” Braun recalls. “My approach was: When? Four months from now? Four years? Seriously. If not now, when?”

Once the idea was a go, Braun booked nearly the entire roster of artists—Grande, Bieber, Coldplay, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder (via remote feed), Marcus Mumford and many others—within 24 hours. Arranging the logistics on short notice was much harder. With Manchester Arena still locked down, they didn’t have a venue until four days before the event. Then the police blocked the show due to a conflict: a tribute match for Manchester United legend Michael Carrick. Braun called Irish soccer player Robbie Keane, whom he had met during Keane’s tenure with the L.A. Galaxy, and explained how much was hanging in the balance. Keane relayed the message to Carrick, with whom he’d played for a few seasons at Tottenham Hotspur, who finally convinced Man U officials that the match had to be moved up several hours to accommodate the concert. It’s clear that the benefit—which raised more than $20 million—represented a watershed for Braun. “I think Manchester changed anyone remotely close to it and a lot of people who weren’t,” he says, tearing up. “What I saw in that city that week is something I didn’t even know I was searching for.”

The One Love Manchester concert encapsulated everything that makes Braun a top manager—connections, drive, creativity, canniness and a deep commitment to his artists—and yet it may have ensured his days as a manager are numbered. When asked what one does after such an experience, he doesn’t hesitate: “What else? Rethink your life.”

Even before the tragedy of Manchester, Braun was in transition. Five years ago, he described himself as “a camp counselor for pop stars.” Now his vastly more complex job has a simple title. “I think I’m just an entrepreneur—really, that’s the definition of it,” he says. “If my ambition was to stay a manager the rest of my life, then I’d probably follow what people think managers are supposed to be like, but my ambition was never to be a manager.”

Perhaps the greatest rebranding feat Braun has engineered is altering the public perception of a talent manager. Traditionally, there are the exploiters like Lou Pearlman, the boy-band svengali behind Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync, who was found guilty of money laundering and conspiracy in 2008. And there are the managers who end up victims themselves, taking their artists to great heights only to be dropped. Case in point: Troy Carter, who helped make Lady Gaga a global superstar and was fired over “creative differences” just before the release of her 2013 concept album, Artpop.

Clockwise from left: Usher and Braun’s younger brother Adam; Ariana Grande and Allison Kaye, president of music at SB Projects, backstage at One Love Manchester; Jimmy Iovine and David Geffen; Karlie Kloss. PHOTO: CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: JOHN SCIULLI/GETTY IMAGES; KEVIN MAZUR/GETTY IMAGES; SCOOTER BRAUN (2)

Regardless of type, managers have clung to one edict: Never step into your clients’ spotlight. The personification of this is Guy Oseary, who has remained behind the scenes as he’s helped Madonna continuously reinvent herself since 1992. He also became U2’s manager several years ago yet has done little press since 1997.

Braun defies categorization and that cardinal rule: With 4.2 million Twitter followers, 2.8 million on Instagram and 1.3 million on Facebook , he is a public figure in his own right. Some, including Bieber, have needled Braun for how prominently he figured in Never Say Never. “I think people got this idea that I wanted to be a star,” Braun says. “Managers of the past don’t have any kind of public persona—it’s all about the fame of the artist. I really don’t want to be a star. I just want to have a platform.”

Braun can use the light of one star to illuminate another. When he signed 25-year-old Carly Rae Jepsen in 2011, Braun cut Bieber in 50-50 on the deal so he could leverage Bieber’s popularity. Jepsen would tour with Bieber, duet with Bieber and, after the homemade video of the Biebs dancing and singing along to Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” went viral, blow up like Bieber (at least for a while).

Cross-pollination and cross-promotion are essential tools of the trade for Braun. As music sales have cratered, Braun has shown his acumen for live shows, licensing and merchandising. When it comes to marketing and promotion, he works from the gut. “The joke in the office is that I love golden tickets, sweepstakes and countdowns,” he says. “But those can’t be repeated—nobody wants to win the same videogame four times in a row, you know? I like to do something different every time.”

Where some impresarios’ success is rooted in their musical ability or ear, Braun tends to rely on another kind of instinct—the one that’s used to close deals and land new business. “First impression of Scooter? Convincing,” says British music mogul Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music Group. Just after Bieber signed a recording deal in the U.S., “Scooter hustled his way into my office in London and convinced me Justin would be a huge success. I’m not sure how, exactly, but he did,” Grainge says. “He has all this confidence and energy. You couple that with emotional intelligence that makes him so perceptive, and he’s just incredibly persuasive.”

One of Grainge’s first acts upon taking over UMG in 2011 was to ink a distribution deal with Braun’s Schoolboy Records. Ever since, he’s relied on Braun’s ability to see what’s around the bend, Grainge says: “We need him to lead. Lead his artists but also be ahead of things, show us what the next things are.”

With two young children, Braun isn’t out at showcases looking for new faces the way he was when he was younger, though he remains adept at spotting talent on every social network and now Musical.ly. As he ranges further afield as an entrepreneur and tech-centric venture capitalist (he was an early backer of Uber and Spotify), he encourages his clients to invest in start-ups, sometimes exchanging promotion in return for equity stakes.

“Scooter’s really an artist in the way he thinks out of the box,” says Kloss, who signed with SB Projects in 2015. “That’s why I chose him: to think about my career more holistically, beyond modeling and fashion.”

Kloss, whose Klossies cookies have raised funds for nonprofits such as FEED and who established the Kode With Klossy scholarship for young girls, was drawn to Braun’s longstanding commitment to philanthropy. He stipulates that every deal for a client include some sort of charitable component and encourages clients to donate the way he does: “50 percent quiet charity—you say nothing—and 50 percent that you show,” he says. “You’ll get the most credit and criticism for that, but that’s how you inspire people to do more.”

Braun’s longest-tenured client, who has grown up (and stumbled badly) in the public eye, rarely misses a chance to poke fun at him but not when asked about his impact. “He’s great at what he does. But more than that, I am proud of what a good man he is,” Bieber says of Braun via email. “He changed my life. He is the best in the business.”

The admiration is mutual between Braun and Bieber, who have been inextricably linked for the past decade. “He’s family. I think the relationship is more like a big brother, especially because he’s become a man,” Braun says. “I think he’s seen the worst of himself, and to watch him rise out of it was amazing.”

Bieber’s phoenixlike rebirth, which started in 2015 after a hellish year and a half of personal and professional turmoil, was no foregone conclusion. Braun constructed a two-year comeback plan that began with reintroducing Bieber to the public via a leap of faith: a celebrity roast—a high-risk, high-reward idea pitched by an intern (Braun had asked the entire office for ideas) and which Braun instantly endorsed. But after the Comedy Central Roast was announced, Bieber changed his mind. “He got nervous,” Braun recalls. “I said, ‘What if I get someone you really trust to host?’ He’s like, ‘Who?’ I said, ‘Kevin Hart.’ He goes, ‘You get Kevin Hart, I’ll do it.’ ” One problem: Hart was committed to doing promos for his film Get Hard. Braun used his powers of persuasion on the comedian, a longtime friend, and his manager, Dave Becky. Not only did Hart end up hosting, but his Get Hardco-star Will Ferrell also joined the array of comics who mercilessly mocked Bieber. Even Shaquille O’Neal, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg got in on the act. And a funny thing happened amid the hilarity and humiliation: Bieber, big-mouthed, spoiled brat and bad boy, was humanized and made likable again.

Ever since, and despite the recent cancellation of the final leg of his Purpose tour, Bieber has been on an extended roll. As excited as Braun was in May that Bieber had back-to-back No. 1 singles, he seemed more pleased by the fact that one chart-topper was the version of “Despacito” Bieber recorded with Puerto Rican pop stars Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. The video for the single has become the most-watched in YouTube history, amassing more than 3.7 billion views, and, between the versions, the most streamed song ever, with more than five billion plays. No song in history has occupied the No. 1 spot on the Billboard top 100 for longer, but that’s not the reason Braun is so pleased. In August, touting the fact that “Despacito” became the most streamed, Braun tweeted: “Latinos be proud of your heritage. You are a part of the American dream. @realDonaldTrump enjoy the music.” As he explains: “There’s a large part of this country that’s being insulted right now, and they deserve to see the No. 1 record is in Spanish.” Braun insisted the single retain the Spanish verses. “I did it on purpose. Justin had nothing to do with that. He just loved the song, and he killed it.”

Braun takes pains to keep his artists out of the political fray. “If my acts aren’t passionate about politics, I’d prefer they say nothing,” Braun says. “It came out that I wouldn’t accept a huge offer from Trump’s campaign to have Justin perform at the RNC—like $5 million for a 45-minute set—and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, my God, Scooter stopped it because he’s a huge liberal.’ But what people don’t know is that the DNC, as soon as they saw that news, called and asked, ‘Can we get him to perform?’ They knew it would be a huge f— you. I said, ‘No, he’s not performing for either of you. Don’t involve him in your politics. He’s Canadian.’ ”

Growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, Braun, whose given name is Scott, initially hated the nickname Scooter, which was given to him by a balloon entertainer at a birthday party. Because of Braun’s aversion to the moniker, his younger brother Adam made sure it stuck. Braun has since embraced it. “The combination of names describes me well,” he says. “Scooter is very playful, and Braun is strong, serious.”

“Seeing where he’s at now is not a surprise at all,” says Adam Braun, who founded the nonprofit Pencils of Promise, which promotes education in the developing world. “Ever since we were little, any room my brother walked into, he would know every single person there within 10 minutes. It didn’t matter their age, ethnicity, background—he’d just find a way to connect.”

Braun was a star on the basketball team and class president each of his last three years at Greenwich High. “I was the first Jew to win class president at the school, and someone carved a swastika into my car,” Braun recalls. He got into several fistfights over anti-Semitic remarks, but only when they were directed at other kids—never him.

“I was always the dad in my group of friends. I was the sober driver. I never got messed up,” recalls Braun, who says his best friend from growing up estimates he’s seen Braun drunk three times in his life. “I don’t like losing control in front of people.”

He went to college at Emory University in Atlanta and began promoting parties as a freshman. The first club night he planned attracted 800 people. Soon promotion had become his full-time job. He left college during sophomore year and became a fixture on Atlanta’s nightlife scene.

Braun’s door into the music business opened in 2001 when he met R&B and hip-hop artist-producer Jermaine Dupri at one of his parties. They became friendly, and Dupri convinced Braun to work at and eventually run marketing for his label, So So Def Recordings. What swayed Braun to pursue the opportunity were the words of another college dropout, David Geffen: “I’d read that book about David where he said music’s the fastest way in. So I’m like, Oh, my God! This might be my opportunity.”

Still, he kept his party promotion business going and growing, and it provided a brush with fortune. Around the end of 2004, Braun wrote to Mark Zuckerberg at his Harvard email about TheFacebook, as it was called at the time. “I was the biggest college party promoter in the country,” Braun says, “and I wanted to leverage it to help my parties blow up.” Zuckerberg referred Braun to Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and the two went back and forth for several months about an equity stake. Braun proposed that he and a friend, NBA forward Drew Gooden, invest $100,000 in return for 10 percent of the company (which would be worth about $50 billion today). Braun says he would have flown to Boston to meet with Zuckerberg and Saverin but one of the reasons he didn’t go is that he didn’t want to risk seeing his high school sweetheart, who’d broken his heart and was attending Boston College. “Knowing me, I would have been in closing mode, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go. Oh, well,” he says with a shrug. “I didn’t know the opportunity was worth billions.”

The near miss taught him to trust his instincts; nevertheless, Braun was soon out of work. After he was fired from So So Def (by Dupri’s mother), he decided to focus on talent management. He signed Asher Roth, a young white rapper he’d discovered on MySpace. But Braun’s big break came while working on a project for the singer Akon. He stumbled across a YouTube clip of a prepubescent blond kid covering Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” at a Stratford, Ontario, talent show. Braun began frantically trying to track down who had posted the clip, calling the theater that hosted the talent show and the local school board. When he finally reached the person who had uploaded the video—Pattie Mallette, Bieber’s mother—he kept her on the phone for two hours until she agreed to bring her son to Atlanta to work with him.

On a mid-July afternoon, Braun waves at Yael, who has emerged from the couple’s sprawling Tudor mansion in L.A. after checking on their boys. “Are they down?” he asks. She nods. “Both? Wow. Supermom.” A few minutes later, Yael departs for a lunch meeting. “I saw her TED talk, and I was done,” Braun says.

It’s easy to see what Braun saw in Yael’s 2010 TEDx presentation titled “Using the F Word to Fight the C Word”—a kindred spirit and activist with moxie to burn. Yael was 22, living in Vancouver and working in finance when her mother, Diane Cohen, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. After giving her mom a shirt emblazoned with the sentiment that pulsed through her—“Fuck Cancer”—Yael started a Facebook group and eventually a nonprofit organization that’s raised more than $3 million for cancer prevention, early detection and awareness among Generation Y.

Braun and Yael married in 2014, but even before that she helped him find balance and perspective. Several years back, Braun, consumed by client crises, complained deep into the night until Yael told him she was done with him bringing work into bed. “I had that classic egotistical Hollywood moment,” he recalls. “I said, ‘This is how I provide this life. This is what you signed up for.’ She looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘OK, I was helping someone with chemo today.’ Instantly, I shut up, kissed her and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

Braun is acutely aware of his privileged position. “I have inconveniences, and other people have problems. Mine feel important, but they’re not,” Braun says. “They’re not life or death. Justin’s stuff got to a point where it was a problem.”

If that seems like a tacit acknowledgement that Bieber’s past struggles with substance abuse were life-threatening, so be it. “It was worse than people realized,” Braun says. The crisis battered Bieber’s reputation as well as Braun’s confidence. “I failed him day after day,” Braun says. “We were living in hell because he was in such a dark place.”

As the incidents mounted—photos of Bieber apparently smoking a joint, video of him urinating in a bucket in a restaurant’s kitchen, run-ins with paparazzi, a DUI arrest (which was later dropped after a plea deal)—others tried to convince Braun to cut bait. “Some of the biggest people in the industry, people invested in Justin’s career, told me, ‘It’s over. Focus on something else. That kid is done,’ ” Braun recalls. His response to the naysayers: “I made a promise to him when he was 13 that I would never give up on him. I plan on keeping that promise.”

At the same time, Braun says, Bieber didn’t feel that his friend and manager, who needed to keep his distance, had his back. “Our relationship really struggled,” Braun recalls, “but I started to learn things that made me a better man.” Among other supportive efforts, Braun began attending Al-Anon meetings. “When the time came and Justin needed the resources to get back on track, I wanted to make sure I was a rock and someone he could turn to.”

Ever since, Braun has been especially protective of Bieber, now 23. In July, when Bieber, exhausted from playing more than 150 shows in 16 months, wanted to cancel the final leg of his tour, Braun didn’t hesitate.

It should be noted that Braun is willing to say no to clients, whether or not they listen. “I said no nine times when Kanye asked me to work with him, because I liked being friends with him,” Braun says. “Then he put me in a position where I couldn’t say no: He just told everyone I was his manager.”

Some of Braun’s closest advisers tried to intervene after he signed West. “They told me, ‘You’re crazy. This is going to kill you,’ ” Braun says. “But I get joy out of being around the guy. It’s not always easy. Nothing great is.” In West, Braun sees something he’s never had before: a true artist and creative genius, albeit one whose work has been overshadowed by erratic behavior. “There are certain mistakes that have been made. Some had to do with—you know, he got sick at one point,” Braun says, referring to West’s admittance to a neuropsychiatric hospital this past November for what his reps called “exhaustion.” “But he will persevere because that’s who he is.”

Without making apologies, Braun suggests West is misunderstood. “He is who he is, and he will never compromise. It doesn’t come from a place of selfishness,” Braun says. “Kanye’s the best listener I’ve ever worked with. If I interrupt Kanye, every single time, he’ll wait for me to finish before speaking. It’s a running joke—sometimes I interrupt him just to see. And he always goes, ‘No, no, finish. I want to hear what you have to say.’ We’ll have full-on yelling fights. Kanye likes it. Kanye wants you to tell him what you think.”

This doesn’t seem to faze Braun. “Oh, I have an ego,” Braun says. “You don’t get to this point without having an ego. When my clients act a certain way, I get pissed, and they get pissed at me. But with Ariana, I was furious, you know?”

After three successful years, Grande abruptly fired Braun in February 2016. “It was nasty, but it wasn’t Ariana,” he says, referring to some of the people around her.

The move surprised Grande’s mother, Joan. “I think Ariana and Scooter were having growing pains because of the youthfulness of it all,” she says. “It was always understood that they’d be back together. The universe usually rights itself.”

By September 2016, Grande had re-signed with Braun in time for him to oversee her Dangerous Woman Tour. “It’s better than before,” Braun says, speaking in his office before the Manchester attack. “The other day, we started having an argument. I said, ‘Look, if you want to go down this road again, we can.’ And she said, ‘No, you’re right—we know where this leads if we treat each other like shit.’ ”

If there was any lingering tension, Manchester (which Grande has not spoken about publicly) put it to rest. “Manchester didn’t change my opinion of Scooter. It confirmed it,” says Joan. “I think his words onstage were incredible. People sometimes don’t equate success with emotion, and that would be a mistake—just look at Scooter.”

Glancing down at his phone in his home office, which occupies a separate suite in his house, Braun asks if I mind meeting him in the living room. “Sorry, I just have to check in on the kids,” he says.

In addition to a wall of accolades (Billboard Music Awards, Video Music Awards and Country Music Association Awards), the office is adorned with sports memorabilia (a basketball autographed by Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier, a football signed by Eli, Peyton and Archie Manning), framed animation gels from Braun and Bieber’s guest spot on The Simpsons and a cowbell inscribed with i want more cowbell and signed by Will Ferrell. By contrast, the serene living room has coffee-table books atop a massive reclaimed-wood table and a grand piano in one corner. As Braun recounts the events surrounding Manchester, he sinks deeper into the gray velvet sofa. “There was one dad when I was meeting with the families,” he recalls. “He told me his wife was there to pick their daughter up and was killed. I kept thinking how hard it’d be to raise my kids without my wife and….” Braun exhales deeply.

His close friend Jamie Reuben, the British financier and real-estate scion, spent time with Braun in June and sensed a change following Manchester. “I have seen a difference,” Reuben says. “I think he’s looking at the big picture and the next move—bringing his amazing network of people together to create something meaningful and big.”

Braun confronts his legacy every time he reads his own obituary, which he has written and keeps for his eyes only. “Instead of trying to figure out where I am now, it’s: What do you want to be when you’re gone?” he says. “The average life expectancy—I think it’s 77. I got like 40 more years. It’s not about management. Management became a part of my story, but it was never where I wanted the story to end.”

For one thing, Braun has finally accepted the tenuous nature of the client-manager relationship. “I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that as much as I love them, they might never love me the same way. They might f— me and be like, ‘Thanks for working your ass off. Bye.’ I thought it would never happen to me. It has once, and I know it will again from the people I love most.” For another, he is craving a new challenge. “I want to be a rookie again,” he says. “Whether it’s a fund or building a brand or public office, I want to be in a situation where people tell me there’s no way you can do this. When people say I can’t do something, I get pumped up.”

In August, a TMZ report that Braun had been approached by Democratic operatives to run for governor of California in 2018 spawned a flurry of speculation. Braun’s rep declined comment, but the story was plausible enough that the campaign of one declared candidate, former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, fired a warning shot across Braun’s bow later that day.

Although Braun won’t entirely rule out seeking elected office in the future (“If that ends up being a part of my story later on, so be it”), he makes it clear he is not running. Instead, he’s focusing on organizing and fundraising, leveraging his wealth and influence to support a new generation of political leaders and issues.

“The idea of activism is very real for me,” Braun says, leaning forward. “I stay up wrestling with it. I know in my heart that we can all make a difference, and we have a responsibility to each other. Do I keep fighting for No. 1 records or do I fight for that?”