Ryan Kavanaugh's Theory of Relativity

His family's drive to succeed clearly shaped him. When he was 6, his father Jack made him put part of his allowance in a piggy bank. "Every day," Kavanaugh recalls, "I would have to read the Wall Street Journal and write down what stock I liked. He'd drive me once a month to see my 'stockbroker' and I'd go with my little piggy bank and $30 or $40 and buy some stocks."

By 14, he had begun his own business, selling pepper spray for self-defense. Then he brought vending machines into his mother's office, until he realized that the endless refilling for mere pocket change was "a really annoying business."

Less annoying were the charts he helped his father create for mergers and acquisitions, early practice in the sophisticated computer programs he now uses to calculate his investments.

While a student at Brentwood High in Los Angeles, Kavanaugh played guitar and performed in several bands; at UC Santa Barbara, while continuing some of his entrepreneurial projects, he remained focused on music. Indeed, he might have continued down that path were it not for two changes that shifted his thinking.

First was a summer course he took at Oxford University, which pushed him to aim higher intellectually (he's one of the few Hollywood moguls who can converse in passable Japanese). Second was a deal he struck with his father.

When Kavanaugh's dad pushed him to take an internship at the stock brokerage firm Dean Witter, he agreed, but only if his father promised never to interfere with his career choices again. And so in 1996, the budding rock star cut his hair, pulled out all but one earring, and went to work.

It was while at Dean Witter, where he soon was offered a full-time job, that he began to make the connections that would eventually help him in Hollywood. Part of his task was to generate lead-lists of wealthy people in show business, and among his early contacts were studio chief-turned-producer Mark Canton and producer Charles Roven ("The Dark Knight").

Canton and Roven became investors when, at a mere 21 years of age and without having finished his degree, Kavanaugh launched his first hedge fund, raising about $500 million. But soon the fund crashed when the Internet bubble burst.

What followed might surprise some skeptics: While the Internet implosion wiped out his company, Kavanaugh gave most of his ownership stake to his investors, leaving him nearly broke but hugely enhancing his credibility with Canton and other investors.

It was Canton who came through when Kavanaugh transitioned to the movie business.

"I introduced him to people at the studios, all the power players," Canton says. "He was very much original about what he thought needed to be done."

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