Methodically, like a chess master thinking 10 moves ahead, Brad Grey has spent years plotting his entry into Hollywood's upper echelons.
On Thursday, he finally arrived. As expected, the 47-year-old manager-producer was named chairman and chief executive of Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures -- the latest in a series of carefully calculated steps to the top.
In his 20s and new to Los Angeles, Grey couldn't even afford to rent office space. Then the onetime comedy promoter became friends with legendary talent manager Bernie Brillstein. Soon he was playing tennis on the courts at Brillstein's Beverly Hills home with power hitters such as the late Brandon Tartikoff, then president of NBC Entertainment.
"We'd tell stories and Brad soaked it up," Brillstein recalled in his 1999 memoir. "He instinctively knew it was a good thing to hang around and be accepted by show-business people who had more experience."
In 1997, when he was just 39, Grey managed to snare an invitation to New York investment banker Herbert Allen Jr.'s exclusive annual conference of media, technology and entertainment titans in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Grey, who was by then the head of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, was the only talent manager invited that year -- the only one in fact ever to join the likes of cable magnate John Malone, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone.
But according to people who know Grey well, Sun Valley's rarefied atmosphere was the air he had long been yearning to breathe.
"He's less a Hollywood schmoozer than a schmoozer of power brokers," said Lions Gate Entertainment chief Jon Feltheimer, who has done business with Grey for years. "That's where he likes to play."
Grey's ascension to Paramount comes despite his lack of experience as a studio executive. Though known as a tough negotiator and TV industry maverick who has used Brillstein-Grey's TV production arm to back such cutting-edge shows as "The Sopranos," he is a novice at navigating the corporate culture of an entertainment conglomerate.
Grey replaces outgoing Paramount chief Sherry Lansing and will report to Viacom co-President Tom Freston, a friend who handpicked him for the job. The two are among a group of high-profile entertainment figures -- all of them men -- who vacation together in exotic locales such as Brazil and Cuba.
Grey has made a career as a seller, mostly in television. Now, he'll be a high-profile buyer -- one of the few people in town who can green-light a movie simply by saying yes. That he was named despite the gaping holes in his resume is a testament, many say, to Grey's unflagging drive.
"Brad is very determined to get what he needs to get," said former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Brillstein-Grey's many high-profile clients. "And he usually has four or five different ways to get there."
Dozens of interviews with people who have worked closely with Grey paint a portrait of a skilled strategist whose single-minded focus has made him effective not just at closing deals but also at creating the kind of alliances that are essential to launching projects.
"Brad has a way of defusing situations," says Warner Bros. production President Jeff Robinov, who credits Grey with helping the studio win a bidding war for rights to a Chinese gangster film that director Martin Scorsese is remaking under the title "The Departed." Grey, Robinov said, "contacted the producers in Hong Kong, and then was prepared to put up his own money after we had gone as far as we were going to go.... If not for Brad, it would have fallen apart a million times."
In contrast to many in Hollywood, Grey is also not afraid to admit he doesn't know something. On the set of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which Grey's movie company, Plan B, helped to make, "he didn't try to butt in," said veteran producer Richard D. Zanuck. "He was anxious to be educated in the mechanics of making a film, where he didn't have any experience whatsoever."
As collegial as Grey can be, he can also seem distant, even aloof. People who've worked under him at his management firm say he can be a "one-man band" who keeps his own counsel. Despite carefully cultivating certain key relationships, he is rarely seen on the Hollywood party circuit, preferring to spend time with his wife and college sweetheart, Jill, and their three children.
Born in the Bronx, the youngest child of a New York garment industry salesman, Brad Alan Grey sold belt buckles made in his grandfather's factory when he was still in high school. He began his industry career while still in college, working as a gofer for a concert promoter by the name of Harvey Weinstein, who would later go on to co-found Miramax Film Corp.
During the week, Grey studied business and communications at the State University of New York at Buffalo. On the weekends, he'd drive south to Manhattan to check out the comics at the Improv, where he met a booking agent named Chris Albrecht.