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Entertainment turnaround wiz John Hyde knows his way around the lot

The vice chairman of Chatsworth-based Image Entertainment, which had been rescued from bankruptcy before he came in, has helped restructure the company and is seeking to grow it through acquisitions.

December 26, 2010|By Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times
  • John Hyde, vice chairman of Image Entertainment, has spent more than a decade taking over troubled entertainment companies and guiding them through reorganization.
John Hyde, vice chairman of Image Entertainment, has spent more than a decade… (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)

The gig: John Hyde is vice chairman of Image Entertainment, a Chatsworth-based home entertainment company with a library of more than 3,200 titles — including the prestigious Criterion Collection, independently produced movies and stand-up comedy — that it distributes on DVD and digital platforms.

Together with Chief Executive Ted Green, Hyde recruited a private equity firm to acquire Image, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, in January and put them in charge. In a very tough market for DVD sales, they have restructured the company and are seeking to grow it through acquisitions.

A little bit of everything: After beginning his career as a summer intern at ABC in 1964, where he worked alongside a young David Geffen, Hyde took a succession of jobs that showed him all corners of the entertainment industry. At Universal Studios he learned production by working for an executive who was involved in music, movies and television, including the teen dance program "The Lloyd Thaxton Show."

He next worked for the chairman of indepedent studio Filmways, getting an education in high-level corporate decision-making as he was charged with folding new acquisitions into the company. By the late 1970s, he was putting together financing and helping to produce movies as one of the heads of Producers Sales Organization, or PSO, an independent company that sold foreign distribution rights and made such films as "The NeverEnding Story," "Short Circuit" and director Wolfgang Petersen's "Das Boot."

"Today you don't see many people moving between areas of the business like that, but I wouldn't have the career I do if I had specialized," he said.

A painful end leads to a new specialty: In 1986, Hyde had what he describes as a "traumatic" experience: PSO went bankrupt when financing it was counting on from a bank didn't come through. He then had to lay off the majority of the staff and dispose of most of the assets in the company he helped build.

"It felt really personal," he recalled.

But when the reorganization was complete, he was contacted by a bank asking if he would help to restructure another failing firm. Over the next 13 years, Hyde built a new career as a turnaround specialist taking over troubled entertainment companies and guiding them through reorganizations.

"It was a great business because I had no competition," he explained. "In Hollywood, nobody wants to be associated with anything bad. They think they're only as good as their last success."

Why entertainment companies fail: Hyde was involved in more than 40 companies as an interim chief executive, court-appointed receiver, or consultant, including Orion Pictures, Trimark Pictures and Hemdale Film Corp.

More than a decade of sorting through the messes left behind by others opened his eyes to the mistakes that lead to failure in the entertainment industry. The most common: "People produce one picture that's a hit and immediately start spending money like they're a real studio. They get off track instead of just worrying about what's going to be their next movie."

Executive as umbrella: By the early 2000s, Hyde was back running a healthy production company as the head of Film Roman, the animation studio that makes "The Simpsons." Though he worked behind the scenes, Hyde saw himself as playing a critical role for the artists and other creative workers, just as he had at PSO in the 1980s.

"The job of executives is to keep an umbrella over the creatives so they can do amazing things and be protected from the finance people, lawyers and other corporate types who are on top of it," he said.

An eye-opening diagnosis: Hyde took five years to graduate from high school, where he was a frequent presence in detention, and describes himself as "not Michigan's favorite son." As an adult he learned that he was dyslexic, a diagnosis that explained why a successful businessman was considered "stupid" when growing up.

He considers the lessons he has learned coping with an inability to read and write like other people to have been crucial in his career. "There was a doctor in Michigan who helped me realize that there's more than one way to solve a problem and get from A to Z. That has been very helpful as I moved from business to business."

Finding out he was dyslexic, Hyde acknowledges with a laugh, also led to another realization: "It's why people don't like to be in the car with me driving. Because they tell me which way to turn and I can't tell left from right."

Personal: Hyde lives on a ranch in Badger, about 45 miles southeast of Fresno, but stays in an apartment near Image's Chatsworth office during the week. He has been with his wife for 31 years and has a grown son who lives in Australia.

ben.fritz@latimes.com

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