Richard Nanula: When You Wish Upon A Balance Sheet

Think the only magic at Walt Disney Co. happens at theme parks? Consider Richard D. Nanula. Six years ago, he was one of five Harvard MBA students doing feasibility studies for a new Disney theme park. Now 31, Nanula is chief financial officer of the $6 billion-a-year company and one of the country's youngest CFOs.

Nanula's study, assessing the feasibility of a theme park on American factories, has been shelved for now. But since Disney's then-CFO Gary L. Wilson handpicked him in 1986, he has risen fast. In 1987, he helped Wilson swing a deal to buy the Disneyland Hotel from Wrather Corp. and another to buy a mail-order firm for kids' furniture. One early contribution came from an old Harvard tie: He contacted a former classmate now at JMB Realty Corp., who helped broker JMB's $404 million purchase of Disney's Arvida land-development concern.

After Wilson left in 1989 to buy Northwest Airlines Inc., Nanula moved up to treasurer. In that job, he helped raise $600 million for Disney films with Japanese investors and $965 million with bonds backed by Disney's soon-to-open Euro Disneyland in Paris. His negotiated deal to buy the Muppets TV characters fell apart after founder Jim Henson's 1990 death.

In his free time, Nanula, a bachelor, is a regular at Los Angeles Lakers games. "I don't like missing them," he says. But sometimes his busy work schedule gets in the way. Following Disney's recent trend toward innovative schemes for raising money, the company will soon offer $250 million in bonds to finance television production. The bonds' return increases if the shows are hits. Next year, Disney will need money for future films, and soon after that it will need cash for a promised new theme park in Orlando or Anaheim -- all opportunities for Nanula to test his imagination.

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