FORTUNE -- When he was appointed chief financial officer of the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) at age 31, he was the youngest CFO in Fortune 500 history. When he became CEO of Starwood Hotels (HOT) in 1998, he was one of the first black Fortune 500 chiefs. Richard Nanula later became CFO of drug giant Amgen (AMGN) and served on the board of Boeing (BA).
Now the corporate golden-boy's career is in tatters. A Los Angeles Times story this past Sunday charges that Nanula, posing as a porn star called "Mr. Rich," videotaped himself having sex with adult film actresses. The story followed up on explicit photos posted on a website called Thedirty.com.
According to the LA Times story, the fateful entanglements, along with a sexual harassment charge, led Nanula, 53, to resign in July from private equity firm Colony Capital and the Miramax film company, where he was chairman.
I knew Nanula back when he was at his height of success. And ironically, he was known as an extraordinarily cautious and conservative businessman. As CFO of Disney, his main role was to be a critical and reliable "No" man to then-CEO Michael Eisner. "You can hold back the bridle of a fast horse more easily than you can get a dead horse to move," Eisner once told me. "I liked having Richard say, 'No, we shouldn't do that. Stop. It's irresponsible.'"
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. "I wanted to kill him," Eisner told me about Nanula's departure in 1998. "I was aggravated and personally hurt." Eisner gave Nanula his blessing, however, since Starwood—Sternicht's patched-together hotel empire, following a hard-fought takeover battle for ITT-Sheraton --was "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to lead a Fortune 500 company.
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. That is the title of my 1999 Fortune story about their time at Starwood. Nanula quit the day the Fortune story came out. The two men, who had once been in each other's weddings and had gone on family vacations and trips to the Super Bowl together, didn't talk until they ran into each other years later.
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 (DELL) and former Viacom (VIA) CEO Frank Biondi. The firm went bust a year or so 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.
There has always been a bit of mystery to Richard Nanula. The son of an Italian father and an African-American mother, he once told me that his parents' divorce when he was six years old was very hard on him—and his way of handling their breakup was to make things seem just fine. That's how Nanula handled most hardships in his life. Today, Nanula has little chance to fulfill the high expectations that so many people once had of him. He didn't respond to an email that I sent to his personal account or to a voicemail left at his home.
Sometimes bad things happen for good reason. So it goes with Nina Jacobson, the producer of The Hunger Games.
Jacobson was in the hospital, with her partner in labor and her father in intensive care, six years ago when her boss at Disney (DIS) fired her over the phone. "Can you come in?" Dick Cook asked Jacobson, then president of the company's Buena Vista movie studio. "No, I really can't," Jacobson MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 23, 2012 1:01 PM ET
"If Twitter is the telephone, we're the conversation."
That comment was a highlight of Fortune Brainstorm Tech's "Future of Television" discussion on Thursday—even though the person who said it wasn't in the room.
No offense to the panelists on stage: Disney (DIS) Media Networks co-chair Anne Sweeney, CBS (CBS) exec Nancy Tellem, and NBC Universal's (CMCSA) Lauren Zalaznick. But the remark--which moderator Jason Hirschhorn said former MTV Networks (VIA) CEO Judy McGrath MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 22, 2011 11:35 AM ET
FORTUNE -- As the most powerful woman in children's television, Anne Sweeney meets a lot of girls who wish they were Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus or tomorrow's superstar.
But Sweeney insists that she sees plenty of accomplished women in business who do that very same thing.
"I see a lot of women of every age trying to be something else," says Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 19, 2011 2:34 PM ET
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is going on the Disney (DIS) board. Smart move for her. And smart move for Disney CEO Bob Iger and his fellow directors.
Sandberg, 40, is super-smart and supremely connected, having worked her way from Harvard to the World Bank to the U.S. Treasury--where she worked for then-Secretary Larry Summers--to Google (GOOG), where she was the top-ranked woman exec. She moved to Facebook early last year. And MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 23, 2009 6:32 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers and Jessica Shambora
We took a break from posting our daily Power Point--Postcards' quote of the day--last week, but we collected more than a few good ones at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Pasadena. Here are our 10 favorites, from the mouths of media moguls, tech titans, Tweeters and more.
"It's not really my thing. I don't go to the dentist. I don't do things that cause me to emote." MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jul 28, 2009 12:09 PM ET
The sun's coming out in New York City after a week of seemingly endless rain. This was also a whirlwind week of interesting encounters.
On Tuesday, I had lunch, unexpectedly, with Walt Disney (DIS) CEO Bob Iger. We were both at the New York Stock Exchange for Jeff Sonnenfeld's Yale CEO Summit, and Iger was getting the "Legend in Leadership Award." The Summit was off the record (as was the lunch), MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 12, 2009 6:10 PM ET
"At the end of a day the performance of a company like Kraft has everything to do with the quality of the people that we have in the key roles and so I spend most of my time worrying about whether that's the case, making sure...we have the right people in the right places, that they have the resources that they need to get the job done."
-- Kraft (KFT) CEO MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - May 5, 2009 6:57 PM ET
"Advertisers have made it clear that they want a safe environment unpolluted by videos of cats on skateboards."
-- Jeff Zucker, CEO of General Electric's (GE) NBC Universal, in the New York Times. On Thursday ABC, owned by Disney (DIS), announced that it would begin showing its programs on Hulu.com, a joint venture established by NBC and News Corporation's (NWS.A) Fox. The move further casts the video site as the home MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Apr 30, 2009 6:50 PM ET
"The hardest thing about the job is staying focused," President Obama told Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes Sunday night.
Are you feeling like the President these days? Unfocused? Maybe fatally so? We're living in an age of "global A.D.D.," as David Brooks, the New York Times op-ed writer said in his column last Friday. Brooks criticizes President Obama for attempting to tackle the "four most complicated problems facing the nation--health care, MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 24, 2009 1:55 PM ET
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