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Richard D. Nanula is hanging up his Mickey ears to don a new hat as president and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., one of the world’s largest hotel companies. As senior executive vice president and chief financial officer at the Wait Disney Co., Nanula was one of the entertainment giant’s fast-climbing executives. He was on a short list of potential black Fortune 500 CEOs, which includes Kenneth Chenault, president and COO of American Express; Richard D. Parsons, president of Time Warner; and A. Barry Rand; executive vice president of operations at Xerox.
Nanula, 38, now belongs to the small cadre of black executives heading major U.S. corporations. He will oversee Starwood’s $10 billion hotel and gaming properties, with brands such as Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, Ciga, Four Points and Caesar’s. The Westchester County, New York-based company has more than 650 hotels and resorts, and 14 casinos, in more than 70 countries.
“I joined Disney at a critical period in its history and was fortunate to have been deeply involved in the company’s successful growth and international expansion,” says Nanula. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of my 12 years at Disney with Michael Eisner (chairman and CEO). It was a difficult decision to leave him, a great future and all my friends at Disney. But the opportunity at Starwood, with its outstanding portfolio of globally renowned brands, was irresistible.”
Nanula is a graduate of Harvard Business School, where he was a classmate of Starwood’s Barry S. Sternlicht. He has maintained a personal and professional relationship with the 37-year-old chairman, sometimes as an ally and at other times on opposite sides of the negotiating table. Sternlicht sought his advice on Starwood’s $14.6 billion purchase of ITT Corp.
Nanula beat out more than 20 other senior executives for the post. “Richard represented the best combination of skills, relevant experience and chemistry for the role,” says Sternlicht. “The operational discipline and managerial skills honed in his Disney career will serve our expanding company extremely well.”
After a CPA stint at Deloitte Haskins & Sells, Nanula joined Disney in 1986 in strategic planning and quickly rose through the executive ranks, becoming CFO in 1991. Then 31, he was the youngest CFO of a Fortune 500 company in history. In 1995, Eisner tapped Nanula to be president of Disney Stores’ worldwide retail operation, a $500 million a year business at the time.
He was promoted to senior executive vice president and became CFO in 1996 to help integrate the company’s $19 billion acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC. Nanula, who is widely respected on Wall Street for his world-class financial performance, was lauded for his role in the financial rescue of Disneyland Paris and for orchestrating new financing strategies for the entertainment giant’s movie unit.
“Nanula’s contributions have helped Disney to grow as he, himself, has grown over the 12 years of his distinguished career at Disney,” Eisner released in a statement. “Starwood represents a marvelous advancement for a man of his talents,” he added.
Some analysts are speculating that Nanula wanted to