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IOWA Magazine | 06-23-2022

From Bon Jovi to Kesha, Jack Rovner Manages Megawatt Careers

The celebrity manager and former record company president found his life’s calling at Iowa.

Everything came into laser focus for Jack Rovner (77BA) on a night in 1973. The second-generation University of Iowa student was watching the Grateful Dead jam on the Field House stage, performing hypnotic hits such as “Truckin’” and “Sugar Magnolia” for more than 12,000 fans. That’s when he decided he had to learn as much as possible about booking concerts—and be in charge of “making it all happen.”

Listen to Jack Rovner share how he manages megawatt careers in the music industry.

This epiphany inspired an East Coast kid, born in Des Moines, to become the man behind a range of popular acts, from Bon Jovi and Kesha to the Impractical Jokers comedians.

Today, Rovner is co-president of Vector Management, a company with offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville that is affiliated with Live Nation and helps artists build their careers in a variety of fields, including music and comedy. Back in college, though, he and his roommate, John Gallo (78BGS), were just “music guys.” Rovner was head of Iowa’s Commission on University Entertainment, and Gallo planned Hancher Auditorium’s shows. Together, they booked legendary bands such as the Doobie Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles, Frank Zappa, and Cheap Trick.

Doing so helped Rovner learn the ropes quickly. “I started reading Billboard like the Bible and discovered the key players in the business,” he says. This paved the way for him to “talk the talk and walk the walk” in his earliest professional role—staging shows at campuses across the country for College Entertainment Associates.

Before long, the former communications studies major became head of marketing for Columbia Records, working with artists such as Pink Floyd, Wynton Marsalis, and the Rolling Stones. Bruce Springsteen also was an artist at Columbia Management; he’d just released Born in the USA, and with Rovner’s assistance, sold 25 million albums in the U.S. alone.

Pop star Kesha and Jack Rovner PHOTO: DIA DISASUPIL/GETTY IMAGES Pop star Kesha (third from the left) pictured with record executives and her manager, Jack Rovner (fourth from left), after the 2018 Grammy Awards.

Those years were like the “wild west,” according to Rovner, because the music business was rapidly evolving. It was during these heady times that he connected with Clive Davis, a larger-than-life record producer and industry executive. “Working for Clive was like going to Harvard for graduate school,” says Rovner. “It absolutely refined my skills as a marketing executive.”

Those skills came in handy when Strauss Zelnick, head of BMG North America, gave Rovner and his label partner, Bob Jamison, a shot at helping the struggling RCA Records. In seven years, the pair turned the label around, bringing on musicians who became chart-toppers, including Christina Aguilera, ’N Sync, the Foo Fighters, the Strokes, David Gray, and Kings of Leon. “Once you create momentum, everyone wants to be with the ‘hot’ label,” Rovner says.

However, after changes in BMG’s leadership, he left the company and joined forces with manager and attorney Ken Levitan. Together, they have been growing Vector Management since 2002—and have made it one of the most successful artist management companies in the business.

Today, Rovner is doing everything from landing movie deals for the Tenderloins comedy troupe, of Impractical Jokers fame, to navigating national tours for pop star Kesha. Watching Kesha perform her power ballad, “Praying,” at the 2018 Grammys was a “moment of triumph” for him in a long career marked with such highs—and he anticipates many more to come.

“This is a lifestyle, and it’s 24/7,” says Rovner. “I don’t see myself ever retiring; I love the action too much.”

ILLUSTRATION: CARMI GRAU

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