Five Fantastic Qualities of Russell Kagan

Five Fantastic Qualities of Russell Kagan

Russ, in the Carleton lobby. Of course.

A dear friend and confident passed awhile back named Russell Kagan. I always favored calling him Russ, but one walk down the Croissette in Cannes changed all that as people on every block yelled his name, in every accent known to man… “KAGAN!”

It was 1998 and the boom was in full swing. Media properties began to realize content could go multiple places…. and be sold multiple times. This was manna for Russ, a consummate deal maker/salesman in TV distribution throughout Europe and Asia. Of course everyone flocked to the south of France twice a year to shop for media content and enjoy the lifestyle, but Russ was already there waiting. And that’s where the true magic of Russ’ investment in mankind payed off.

  1. He was Kind. Russ didn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body, in yiddish, that would be called a mentch. In fact, every action I experienced seemed to be thinking of others, first. The Hotel Carleton in Cannes was an excellent example, and I experienced it firsthand when MoneyHunt showed up in 1998. He would ask doormen how their day was going. Tell waiters how well their service was. Apologize before making a critical comment to a valet. Congratulate a manager on how well the new lobby looked. He afforded both ladies and tramps similar courtesies at the bar. If John Robie and Frances Stevens from Catch a Thief would have walked into the lobby again, they would have greeted Russ warmly. After a group cocktail, he usually picked up every tab unless it was crazy, and made sure the staff was well tipped. In France, this is unheard of… and it endeared every french staff member to him.
  2. He was Interested. Russ had a thousand questions. He was forever curious about how things worked, what would happen next, and who did what to whom. His eyes would twinkle and he would lean into the table and ask “so tell me, what happened next”. He followed the MoneyHunt story from its start as a lowly show on Public Television to a “somewhat” coordinated multi media enterprise of web, live events, publishing, and syndicated TV. It was his good listening that identified the demand for a entrepreneur based pitch show in overseas and matched us with producers for versions in Chinese, Spanish, Italian and many others. Business was brisk, but he was also fascinated by the personal arc of people he cared for. He knew everyone’s wives (by name) and many girlfriends (by reputation!) and was always curious as to what came next.
  3. He was Intelligent. There was nothing more animated than when Russ figured something out, or at least an angle to get to the next step. He was called a pioneer for a reason. What he did for our little Public TV show on the international stage of TV distribution was genius. But he did that *very single day* for someone during the Cannes shows. His ability to network, and to know who would like what, next was uncanny. He would see two entirely separate companies on a vector that would lead one to the other, and he would insert himself (fairly!) and bring it all together. He was also a fixer who got tickets to the best network parties, found a car for a late night drive to Milan, or pointed out that Juan les Pins is a great place to get a little R&R. Though “rolodex” is an outdated term, those that know it would acknowledge, he had a golden one.
  4. He was Funny and Fun. Russ was hilarious. He could sit in the Carleton Lobby and hold court with ribald tales and hilarious anecdotes about himself, the group, or  *just about every guest who walked from the front desk to the elevators*. Somehow, he did it without being mean or gossipy. Just funny as hell. It was more of a laughter at the absurdity of human folly (and in Cannes France you don’t have to look far). Because he knew all the hot spots- and their staff- he engineered celebratory parties at Baoli (better house music than Buddah Bar!), La Chunga (broken dishes at midnight, dance on table by one) and the Majestic (apero that lasted 6 hours) as well as various movie premieres. There’s a Meg Ryan movie called French Kiss and when it premiered in Cannes … and the scene came on in the Carleton Lobby… the whole theatre stood up yelling “where’s Kagan? Kagan!!! He stood up in the front row, to thunderous applause. Had to be there, maybe but trust me, hilarious!
  5. He was not full of himself. He did all this with seemingly no ego. He didn’t need credit for things (but he got paid!). He was always well dressed, but his clothes did not wear him. I once walked into his suite for a 10am meeting with the italians at, well, 10am. Russ heard the knocking and came out to the salon in his bathrobe barely tied around his portly self. We ordered coffee and croissants from room service (of course, it was immediate), and indeed the italians arrived shortly after. Russ motioned for me to pitch, I did. I finished. He stood up, robe even less effective at coverage, and asked if they wanted to buy or not. They offered, he countered, they accepted and he waddled back to bed, yelling over his shoulder “papers in the morning, ciao”. With all the suits and ties hanging in his closet, he could still close a TV deal with RAI in a hastily gathered bathrobe. In fact, that’s all he ever needed.

In this way and others, I’d love to be more like Russ. And I miss him sorely.

PS; he was just as good in Monaco.

I mentor two kids and several entrepreneurs. Similarities are coincidental.