Ahead of the Curve

Jeff B. Cohen
Making billions in any industry is tough, but in entertainment it’s near impossible. And yet David Geffen did just that.

Making billions in any industry is tough, but in entertainment it’s near impossible. And yet David Geffen did just that.

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To see things, in the seed, that is genius.

—Lao Tzu

When discussing popular culture, I’m hard-pressed to think of someone who has been more ahead of the curve, both creatively and as a businessperson, than David Geffen. In 1969, he became a millionaire at 26 when he sold a music publishing company that he cofounded with indie singer/songwriter Laura Nyro to CBS for $4.5 million. In 1970 he started Asylum Records, signing some of the biggest acts of the 1970s including the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, and Jackson Browne. In 1972 he merged Asylum Records with Warner Communication’s Elektra Records and received $2 million in cash and $5 million in Warner Communication’s stock, becoming one of the company’s largest shareholders. He ran Elektra/Asylum until being named vice chairman of the Warner Brothers Film Studios. He didn’t love having a boss in that role and eventually resigned his position. In 1980 he founded Geffen Records, which signed such acts as Cher, Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, and Nirvana. In 1983 he founded The Geffen Film Company whose initial release was Risky Business, the film that made the then-unknown Tom Cruise a star. He began financing/producing several stage productions, including Cats, one of the longest-running and most profitable in Broadway history. In 1990 he sold Geffen Records to MCA in a deal that ultimately earned him upward of $800 million. He became a billionaire shortly thereafter when Japanese conglomerate Matsushita made an all-cash acquisition of MCA.

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