Outlook-California Society of CPAs Article about Marty Shindler
Outlook, the magazine of the California Society of CPAs featured an article about Marty Shindler in its Winter 1991 issue
As you walk through the buildings that make up the Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) facility, there are constant reminders of major film hits from the recent past. Yoda sits in a glass case, retired from his unforgettable role in Star Wars. Small-scale airplanes and dirigibles out of action from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Always and Die Hard 2 hang from all corners of the model room. There’s a pleasure boat used in Cocoon and a flattened toon from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Surrounded by so much fantasy and creativity, it’s no wonder that Marty Shindler, director of finance for ILM, loves coming to work every day. This is no ordinary business campus. It’s the place where Academy Award-winning special effects are created before they make their way to the silver screen. While Shindler does get to work with some important producers, the majority of his time is spent ensuring the financial health of ILM, a division of LucasArts Entertainment Company. Typically working 50- to 60-hour weeks, there’s little time left over for stargazing. But he admits that working in this industry is a lot more fun than working for the average widget company, because he can really enjoy the end result of his labor. “Movies are part of our daily lives and the ones ILM works on are quality films that are extremely entertaining. (ILM has won Academy Awards for its work 10 out of the past 13 years.) I can appreciate what I’m watching on the screen in more ways than what meets the eye.”
After almost 12 years in the film industry, Shindler is clear about the fact that it’s the challenge of helping a company reach its financial goals—not the glitter—that makes his job so exciting. When Shindler graduated from Bentley College in Massachusetts in 1971 and learned his MBA from Suffolk University, getting into the entertainment industry was never a career goal. His first major job as a CPA was working with insurance and business clients at Coopers & Lybrand in Boston. While his quick mind and strong curiosity would have assured him success wherever he worked, he might never have discovered Hollywood if his wife Roberta hadn’t been transferred to Los Angeles to join Bank of America’s MBA training program.
Shindler arranged with Coopers & Lybrand to be transferred to Los Angeles along with his wife. He remembers his first neighbors in an L.A. apartment complex as would-be actors, directors and screenwriters who made their living driving taxis and waiting tables. Shindler had no interest in being a “would-be” anything and, for two years, dedicated himself to his work at Coopers & Lybrand. However, a chance call from a headhunter changed the direction of his career. The job was an analyst position in the financial reporting division at 20th Century Fox and a great opportunity to broaden his scope of expertise.
Once at Fox, he was quickly promoted, moving from financial analyst in June 1979 to manager of financial reporting in 1980 to director of financial reporting in 1981 to controller of studio operations in 1983. In an industry where 75 percent of the nearly 500 films distributed each year lose money and only 10 to 15 percent make money for their investors, knowing the business is critical, stresses Shindler.
Shindler moved to Cannon Films after six-and-a-half years with Fox—just in time to deal with an SEC audit into the company’s prior year’s accounting practices. A year and a half later he went back to work for Coopers & Lybrand, which had just opened its entertainment division in Sherman Oaks. “The change allowed me to put all my experience to use with a full range of clients.” It also gave him the opportunity to bring clients into the firm. As fate would have it, one of those clients was Lucasfilm, George Lucas’ film production company. Shindler was hired not only to audit, but to perform a consulting study on Lucasfilm’s production and manufacturing facilities in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. When Lucasfilm’s subsidiary ILM began looking for a new director of finance, Shindler was an obvious candidate.
Since August 1989, Shindler has been in charge of ILM’s accounting, finance, purchasing and MIS departments, working to improve the company’s cash management and cost allocation systems, as well as planning and evaluating capital equipment expenditures. The workload is strenuous, leaving little time for glamorous holidays. But Shindler is having enough fun that a day or week off here and there is all he really needs. (A five-day trip to Mexico with Roberta this past year was the first formal vacation he and Roberta had taken alone in more than seven years.) When the workday is over, he makes sure there’s always time for his family, which includes son Michael, 7, and daughter Perri Ann, 6. “Friday nights are set aside to spend with my wife and one night each weekend is family night. I also take a few hours each weekend to ride my mountain bike through the backroads of Marin.”
Watching movies is also, not surprisingly, an important leisure activity for the whole family.
Shindler looks at his future at ILM with excitement, for ILM’s future looks as bright as its past. Given ILM’s track record, its current projects-Hudson Hawk starring Bruce Willis, Rocketeer, Oliver Stone’s The Doors, Ron Howard’s Backdraft, Jim Cameron’s Terminator 2 and Steven Spielberg’s Hook—have a much better than average chance of becoming box-office hits. And when they come to the theaters, Shindler can take pride in the part he played in getting them there.
“As a member of senior management, helping define financial goals and then seeing the company reach those goals is absolutely satisfying to me,” says Shindler. “For now, I’m exactly where I want to be.”