When he was appointed chief financial officer of the Walt Disney Co. at age 31, he was the youngest CFO in Fortune 500 history. When he became CEO of Starwood Hotels in 1998, he was one of the first black Fortune 500 chiefs. Richard Nanula later became CFO of drug giant Amgen and served on the board of Boeing.
Nanula resigned in July 2013 from private equity firm Colony Capital and the Miramax film company, where he was chairman.
Nanula was key to Disney’s success in the ’90s. When EuroDisney was sucking billions of capital, the young Nanula negotiated with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud to help save Paris’s version of Disneyland from bankruptcy. Actually, Nanula was so cautious that he discouraged Eisner from buying a TV network—which Eisner went ahead and did, acquiring ABC in a $19 billion deal in 1995. That purchase brought Disney ESPN and turned out to be a very wise investment.
Nanula went on to head Disney Stores and was on the company’s fast track for 12 years before his best friend from Harvard Business School, Barry Sternlicht, wooed him away to run Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
At Starwood, the golden boy’s success began to unravel. Nanula, calm and self-possessed, and Sternlicht, who is intense and impetuous, couldn’t stand working with each other. They veered toward divorce corporate-style.
Nanula never got back on the fast track. Dismissing Eisner’s invitation to go back to Disney, he briefly ran an Internet startup, Broadband Sports, whose investors included Michael Dell
and former Viacom CEO Frank Biondi. The firm went bust a year or s after Nanula joined. His tenure as CFO of Amgen lasted six years but ended with controversy over late public disclosure of disappointing drug-study results.
At Los Angeles-based Colony Capital since 2008, Nanula was viewed as a smooth and astute businessman who operated below the radar. As chairman of Miramax, which Colony acquired from Disney in 2010, he was trying to restore the film studio to the stature it had when it was run by the prolific Weinstein brothers.