Posted By Randy Jones on June 5, 2009
Jonathan Nelson learned the power of harnessing your unique talents in a music class in college, and it has served him well. He barely passed the class—appreciating Beethoven is harder when you don’t have perfect pitch—but now, as CEO of Providence Equity Partners, he is not only the richest man in Providence, he is the wealthiest man in the state. (It may be the smallest state in the Union, but there’s still some Texas-size money in Rhode Island; Nelson is worth at least $2 billion.) PEP acquired the movie studio MGM a few years ago, and the big question, he told me, was “What would we do with James Bond—who will be the next Bond?” MGM, along with a brother and sister who are the children of original producer Cubby Broccoli, owns the film rights to Ian Fleming’s spy novels. At the time, producers were looking for a new actor to fill 007’s dinner jacket, and many in the business felt that the Bond films were growing stale. Before they closed the MGM deal, Nelson insisted they meet with Barbara Broccoli. “We had key decisions to make and we needed to come to an agreement quickly,” he said. One actor being seriously considered for the role was Daniel Craig, and early buzz on the choice was negative: he wasn’t known as an action star; he wasn’t suave or handsome enough—worst of all, he was blond! Fortunately for him, and for Bond fans everywhere, Nelson remembered his Beethoven.
“Barbara was like one of the kids in class with perfect pitch,” he told me. So, trusting in her Golden Eye, as it were, for Bond, he left the decisions about the films to her. “We took a big risk,” he said. Casino Royale, a remake of one of the earliest Bond films with Craig as a darker, grittier 007, was a critical and commercial hit, and was widely credited with rejuvenating the franchise. “I am here to say that we deserve none of the credit,” Nelson told me. “Barbara had the ‘perfect pitch’ for Bond. Recognizing and respecting those skills was a lesson learned in that first day of the Beethoven course.”
It can be hard to acknowledge what you can and can’t do well and to focus on what you do best. Barbara Broccoli’s perfect pitch is an instinctive sense of what makes the perfect Bond film; Jonathan Nelson’s perfect pitch is recognizing the unique gifts of others and knowing how to turn those into profits. Even harder than accepting your weaknesses, though, is trusting your fate to someone else’s talents. But if you can find partners whose perfect pitch harmonizes with yours and make that leap of faith, the payoff can be immense. After all, you only live twice.