New Universal Chief Jeff Shell Is 'Not Your Typical Hollywood Guy'

Jeff Shell - PR Portrait - 2011

What the new head of studio operations' stint in London reveals about how he'll handle his big new job; says a German peer, "He doesn't need a red carpet. He's very down-to-earth."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Jeff who? That was the reaction of parts of the global media industry after NBCUniversal's surprise Sept. 9 decision to appoint Jeff Shell to run its movie studio operations. Inside NBCU, Shell has earned a reputation as a savvy operator with a nose for numbers and a keen understanding of the global market. But despite a two-year stint in London as chairman of NBCUniversal International, overseeing all international operations of Comcast-owned entertainment companies, he still is something of an unknown quantity in Europe.

PHOTOS: Top 10 Dramatic Studio Shake-ups

Some observers in London say Shell was able to grow his team and leverage NBCU's output and channels to make it one of the more successful overseas studio operations -- but that he did so mostly quietly. Regarded as a smart, capable moneyman with a deft ability to manage staff, Shell mostly seems to have kept his distance from the creative forces involved in TV and film operations. Even so, Shell's appointment to London was seen as a commitment by owner Comcast to expand worldwide.

"Jeff's arrival in the U.K. sent a very strong signal that NBCU truly recognized the importance of the global marketplace by locating the chief of their international businesses in London and not Los Angeles," says Sophie Turner Laing, managing director of content at BSkyB. Putting Shell, 48, in the top movie job likely will continue that push.

STORY: Universal Intrigue: Ron Meyer Backed Langley as Fogelson Plotted Her Ouster

The appointment of former investment banker Shell to head the studio's film activities is expected to add financial and operational focus to the studio and a leader who seems to enjoy keeping a lower-profile in public – in line with his boss, NBCU CEO Steve Burke and Comcast chairman Brian Roberts.

It seems that Shell, who has an MBA from Harvard and bachelor of science degrees in economics and applied mathematics from Berkeley, is arriving with a blank sheet of paper as far as movie folks are concerned.

When contacted by THR, several U.K. film producers simply said they didn't know him or had not dealt with him. There are many people in London with their futures tied to Universal waiting to see what's what will happen as the fallout continues after the firing of Adam Fogelson, a man who much of the industry knew from back in his PolyGram Filmed Entertainment days.

In his new position, Shell is expected to add a bigger financial and operational focus to the studio than predecessor Adam Fogelson. He'll also likely keep a lower public profile than his competitors, an approach in line with NBCU CEO Steve Burke and Comcast chairman Brian Roberts and part of a general trend among studios to shift executive focus from risk-taking creatives to buttoned-down number crunchers.

"He loves the content, but he isn't your typical, overhyped, overexcited Hollywood guy," notes Rudiger Boss, head of acquisitions at German TV giant ProSiebenSat.1. "He doesn't need a red carpet. He's very down-to-earth."