Friday, November 08, 2013

Richard Nanula - The Affirmative Action CEO

Richard Nanula: the rise and fall. Man goes from Harvard MBA to CFO of Disney by age 31. He's now destroyed by bad personal life decisions with hookers, porn stars and being a general shit. He's black, well white dad/black mom but black enough to check the box for the Harvard application. Fortune frames this as Nanula being derailed from fulfilling high expectations. The man was CFO of Disney at 31 (youngest CFO in Fortune 500 history). He was one of the first black CEOs of a Fortune 500 firm. How much higher could he go? He never found the success he had at Disney ever again. Was the success really him or Disney? Nanula sounds like an affable guy who benefited from affirmative action to make millions.

Something a bit weird here? Do these biography factoids sound like a genius or a guy totally out of his league but using his unique trait in corporate America and his positions' prestige and authority to get by? He left Disney for Starwood in 1998. The NY Times did a puff piece on him in '98. Multiprocessor is the word he uses to say multitasker, and reading the details he seems to be a sports fanatic with ADD. Once again, he sat at back of class, read newspapers during class when discussion was bogged down, but I never quite hear that he graduated with honors or what not. Within a year, he was gone from Starwood with the NY Times puff piece being part of the reason as it soured his relationship with his Harvard classmate who selected him for the Starwood job.

He might not have found the Disney magic elsewhere because it was about Disney, not him. His big achievement was negotiating 100 year bonds that deferred principal payments for three years in 1993. His major moves at Starwood were using their size as leverage for renegotiating vendor contracts to reduce costs. Let me golf clap for your amazing achievements. At every other turn, it's someone picking him for a job and moving him along. Even when high up at Disney, he advised against Disney buying ABC and its properties. Friends from Harvard helped him pick up new jobs, but nothing quite clicks whether at Starwood, Amgen (Nanula and other executives hid negative tests for drugs) or Colony Capital (the Miramax lawsuits + shut out from awards). He is still a big sports fan, and he has even delved into shooting pornography.

Not exactly but just as creepy. The guy has spent plenty of money on prostitutes in the past, using the sex addiction excuse on his ex-wife. The six days of a rehab program did not stop him. He stepped it up by hiring porn performers for privates. Because women found it uneasy, he rigged it to have the normal camera and STD test papers to alleviate concerns for the woman. I can see executives using prostitutes like any other guy, but going the full fake shoot route just to bag a porn star? Come on man. It does not seem very CEO to me. Maybe that is why Disney and Starwood representatives both said that it was sad to see him go but they had deep benches to make up for his departure.

To spin this in the Sailer mode, if this guy's mother was white like his Italian dad, would Nanula have been a top tier executive at multiple large US corporations? He attended UC Santa Barbara, which is good but not the best of the UC system (or Stanford). Did he graduate with honors? Hmm, never says. He did attend Harvard's MBA program after earning his CPA. That is quite the jump, going from UCSB straight to Harvard Business School (he deferred his enrollment). From there, it's the series of steps up the corporate ladder at Disney and onto other corporations. My guess is a white Richard Nanula would have been a regular, competent CPA and businessman in southern California who got married and then wrecked his marriage due to cheating on his wife with one of the young golf cart vendor girls at his club. He'd be that friend's dad who is a nice guy at social events, dresses sharp, comes to every sports game, but your friend never says why their parents divorced.

If you think political parties and universities are desperate to find affirmative action talent, you have never spent time in corporate America. The pride in finding "one" is huge. The desperation executives emit when hoping that the "one" they personally hired or promoted succeeds is powerful. Nanula's story is milder but has a mix of Enron (sex), Vioxx (hiding negative drug results), Spitzer (hookers), and Sheen (pornstars). Odd that the NY Times chose to spotlight and promote Nanula all the way up, but failed to mention his sleaze and failure filled departure from Colony in 2013. Must be something special about him.

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