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Nikki Rocco, the first woman ever to head distribution at a major studio, is retiring at the end of the year as Universal Pictures’ president of domestic distribution, the studio announced Tuesday. Rocco, who has held the post since 1996, will become a consultant for the studio, which is expected to name Nicholas Carpou, who is currently co-president of distribution, to succeed her.
Rocco, who began her career at the studio in 1967, when she was a 17-year-old high school senior, has served 47 years with the company. Under Rocco’s leadership, Universal had its best year ever at the domestic box office in 2013, with total grosses of $1.42 billion. The studio also crossed the $1 billion marker faster than any other time in its history.
“Nikki Rocco is one of the hardest working, most loyal people I’ve ever known, and I’ve cherished every moment we have worked together at this company,” NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer said. “She has an impeccable reputation as one of the smartest, most dedicated people in film, and in her 47 years with the studio she’s truly become part of Universal’s DNA. While it’s hard to imagine Universal without Nikki, I’m looking forward to seeing her get some well-deserved time to herself and her family. Nikki has and will continue to make a tremendous impact on Universal and all the people with whom we do business.”
Rocco joined Universal’s New York office following a paid training program during her senior year in high school in Flushing, Queens. Upon graduation, she was hired as a full-time assistant in the sales department. In 1981, when Universal’s sales operations were moved to the studio, Rocco relocated to Los Angeles, taking on an administrative assistant role to Universal’s general sales manager. She was promoted to vp distribution in 1984 and promoted again in 1990 to the newly created position of senior vp distribution/marketing liaison. In 1995, Rocco was promoted to executive vp Universal Pictures distribution and was named president of Universal Pictures distribution in 1996.
“Nikki Rocco is an industry icon, and in the short time I’ve been with the company it’s been clear why she is held in such high regard,” Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment, said. “After 47 years, her retirement is well-deserved, but in the meantime we’ll be requesting every last ounce of time and effort that she is graciously willing to give us.”
Both an avid golfer and cookbook collector, Rocco has regularly appeared in the top ranks of The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Power List and also has been honored with the Women in Film Crystal Award. She’s credited with using the entire calendar year to release films, rather than opting for traditional release date corridors. For example, in 2011, she moved the racing movie Fast Five to a late April release date, where it grossed $210 million domestically and $626 million worldwide.
“Universal has been my home longer than any other home I’ve had, so it’s hard to imagine not coming to the lot every day and not crunching numbers with my team every weekend,” Rocco said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the industry’s best and most talented executives, filmmakers and exhibitors, and I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished together. While this was a hard decision for me, I am excited to spend time with family and friends and travel … but I’ll likely still be up at 4:00 a.m. checking box-office numbers.”
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