Spotlight on Billionaire Jeff Skoll

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By Robert Welkos


NET WORTH: $2.7 billion ( to $3.8 billion (Forbes)

‘BIO: Born to a middle-class family in Canada, Skoll graduated with honors in electrical engineering program at the University of Toronto, then went backpacking around the world before entering Stanford Business School, where he earned an MBA degree. He was the first full-time employee and first president of eBay, the Internet auction firm. He sold a portion of his company holdings for $2 billion. In 1999. he created the Skoll Foundation, which quickly became the world’s largest foundation for social entrepreneurship. In 2004, he created the movie production company Participant Media. In 2009. he founded the Skoll Global Threats Fund, focusing on issues that could bring the world to its knees: climate change, water scarcity, pandemics, nuclear proliferation and Middle East conflict.


HOLLYWOOD CONNECTIONS: Participant Media seeks to make films that have the power to inspire and compel social change. Skoll has served as executive producer on more than 45 films. Recently, he launched Pivot, a new digital cable and satellite television channel aimed at the millennial generation.

FILMS INCLUDE: “Syriana,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Kite Runner,” “The Cove,” “The Help,” “Lincoln,” “Fast Food Nation,” “The Fifth Estate.”

“The Ardor.” Director: Pablo Fendrik. Cast: Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernal. Hollywood Reporter: “A tale of survival and revenge set in the Amazon jungle.”

“Out of the Dark.” Director: Lluís Quílez. Cast: Julia Stiles, Scott Speedman, Stephen Rea. IMDB logline: “A couple and their daughter moves to Colombia to take over a family manufacturing plant, only to realize that their new home is haunted.”

“The Hundred-Foot Journey.” Director: Lasse Hallström. Cast: Helen Mirren, Rohan Chand, Juhi Chawla. Producers include Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.g among producers. IMDB logline: “A story centered on an Indian family who moves to France and opens a restaurant across the street from a Michelin-starred French restaurant.”

“A Most Violent Year.” Director: J.C. Chandor. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks. IMDB logline: “A thriller set in New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically one of the most violent years in the city’s history, and centered on the lives of an immigrant and his family trying to expand their business and capitalize on opportunities as the rampant violence, decay and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they built.”

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2.” Director: John Madden. Cast: Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Richard Gere. IMDB logline: “Two hopeful new arrivals at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful quickly learn that there is only a single room left to rent.”

BOX OFFICE HIT: “The Help.” Production budget: $25 million. North American box office: $169.7 million—Box Office Mojo.

BOX OFFICE DUD: “The Beaver.” Production budget: $21 million. North American box office: $970,816.—Box Office Mojo

ODD FACT: Skoll has been an amateur hypnotist for almost 20 years.—Anya Kamenetz, Fast (2006).

“Virtually everyone I talked to—a writer, an actor, a director, an agent, a lawyer—said the projects they were most proud of in their careers had been the ones that made a difference in some issue that they cared about. And they recognized that the system was really not set up to do those kinds of films.”—CNN Money (2010)

“The young Jeff wouldn’t have had a clue, that’s for sure. Growing up in a middle-class family in Canada, I really didn’t know much about philanthropy, running a company, or starting companies.”—Asked by Ariana Huffintgon on The Huffington Post what he would say about all he had created if he ever had an imaginary conversation with a young Jeff? (2012)

“If everybody were philanthropic, like a Bill Gates, Pierre Omidyar or Warren Buffett, we wouldn’t have to tax people to do the right thing. But in the absence of some compelling force that would get people to give, I think those that have should pay at least their fair share and probably even more. It’s in everybody’s interest.”—The Guardian (2013).

“Ten years from now, I’d like Participant to have 2,000 employees and be producing content in every country of the world.”—Appearance at Toronto Film Festival as quoted by Variety (2013)

“For all his hobnobbing with bold-faced names, Skoll has flown under the radar for a decade now. He grants few interviews about his work and is even more guarded about his personal life. He prefers to stand at the sidelines of the high-wattage events he attends—including those his own organizations host. A genuine aversion to the limelight seems in part to explain his low profile.”—CNN Money 2010

“With his round brown eyes and quiet air of benevolence, Skoll lacks the in-your-face charisma of other billionaire entrepreneurs. He is polite and soft-spoken, and responds to questions only after a longish pause, as though some internal microprocessor is at work on the answer. And those answers invariably are well thought out.”—Toronto Globe & Mail (2006)

THE COLBERT REPORT: In January, Skoll sat down for an interview with comedian Stephen Colbert. Here is a partial transcript:
Colbert: Have you ever worried that perhaps movies have too much influence on us? Because you’re a billionaire who can help bankroll some film—like, for instance, you had a film called ‘The Cove.’”

Skoll: “’The Cove’ was a documentary about dolphin hunting in Japan. And it turns out that there’s a big industry of capturing dolphins, selling them to Sea World and then selling the rest for meat. Which is not a good idea because dolphins are at the top of the food chain and full of mercury….It got so much attention, so many petitions, that the media camped out in Taijii, Japan, where they were doing the fishing and the fishing boats didn’t go out. So for the first time we stopped dolphin hunting in Japan.”

Colbert: “…You did the film ‘Contagion.’ Are there times when you say, ‘I’m a billionaire, I’d like to see what Gwyneth Paltrow looks like dead?”

Skoll: “’Contagion’ was our answer to the Swine Flu, which everyone had heard was going to be a really terrible pandemic. And it turned out that it was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. And all of our experts say we’re overdue for a real pandemic….”

POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS: $20,000 to the Obama Victory Fund 2012.—

SCIENTOLOGY CONNECTION: Executive producer of “The Fifth Estate,” director Bill Condon’s dramatization of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In real life, WikiLeaks published what it contended were secret documents pertaining to Scientology.

About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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