IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond’s Empire

September 20, 2013, 10:59 a.m. ET

EMPIRE BUILDER

IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond’s Empire

His past might not sound like the making of a movie-industry giant, but Richard Gelfond is now the CEO of IMAX, a $1.7 billion empire with a presence in more than 700 theaters

RACHEL LOUISE ENSIGN

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Shoeshine boy. A young sports-paper boss. And a 99-cent dry-cleaner owner. His past might not sound like the making of a movie-industry giant, but Richard Gelfond is now the CEO of IMAX, a $1.7 billion empire with a presence in more than 700 theaters—and part of the movie-going experience for millions of 3D-glasses-wearing film buffs. Now 58 and close with marquee Hollywood figures like director Christopher Nolan, he tells us he made it big because he “was always obsessed by business.”

1. 1963: Launches a shoe-shining business at the age of 8 in a barbershop in his Long Island, N.Y., hometown, using his dad’s shoeshine kit.

2. 1971: Co-founds New York Ball, a newspaper focused on local sports, as a teen. Publication boasts a circulation of 25,000. Uses the experience to land a job at Newsday in college.

3. 1978: As a law student at Northwestern University, he gets an option on a million pounds of coal with a professor in a bid to make money on a local coal-worker strike crimping supply.

4. 1980s: Works at New York law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in mergers and acquisitions. Leaves to start a 99-cent dry-cleaning chain, which becomes “a logistical nightmare.”

5. 1988: Joins financial-services firm Drexel Burnham Lambert, where he meets future business partner Brad Wechsler.

6. 1993: Gelfond and Wechsler win a bid on IMAX with an offer of around $100 million. “Fortunately for me, I didn’t understand all of the obstacles,” says Gelfond.

7. 1998: Becomes chair of Stony Brook University’s philanthropic arm. Later donates $1 million so his alma mater can research mercury poisoning after being stricken by the illness himself.

8. 2000: IMAX struggles as many movie-theater chains file for bankruptcy. Its co-owners consider a sale but don’t pursue one. “We had to downsize IMAX dramatically to save it.”

9. 2002: Opens first IMAX venue in China. In a key move, IMAX films later transition from film to digital, reducing the cost of shipping a film from around $30,000 to $150 per theater.

10. 2012: Nolan’s Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” is released with more than one hour of IMAX-shot footage, the most ever for a Hollywood feature. It rakes in about $110 million in IMAX theaters.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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