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Warner Bros.' 'misunderstood' executive Jeff Robinov to soon enter spotlight as studio president

An unconventional boss, Jeff Robinov this week succeeds Alan Horn as the Warner Bros. executive with the final say on which movies get made and how they are marketed.

March 29, 2011|By Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times

"Alan is more gregarious and easier to talk to," said United Talent Agency partner Jeremy Zimmer. "Jeff is awkward and comfortable with long pauses. On the other hand, he's unbelievably straightforward."

Horn is a polished public speaker who has represented Warner at industry events and congressional hearings. When he skipped November's premiere of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in London, Robinov introduced the movie instead. People present said the nervous executive left the crowd squirming for more than 10 minutes, sometimes dropping the microphone to his side while talking.

Despite their differences, Robinov has been groomed by Horn, who promoted him to president of production in 2002 and five years later to his current post, in which he also oversees marketing and distribution.

"Vanilla and chocolate are as different as can be," Horn said. "But nobody's going to say which is better."

Robinov will for the first time start answering to Meyer, who oversees all Warner Bros. business units.

"I know Jeff less well than some of the other executives," Meyer said. "Now we're going to have a more direct relationship."

A native of Maine, Robinov worked in advertising in New York until he was 30, when he moved to Los Angeles to attend graduate school for producing. But after being wait-listed at UCLA, he started working for a talent manager, eventually becoming an agent and signing filmmaker clients such as the Wachowskis(the "Matrix" trilogy) and the Hughes Brothers ("The Book of Eli"). By 1997, when he became a Warner production executive, Robinov had a new career goal. "I wanted to run a studio," he said.

Robinov was hardly an obvious choice to even get close to that goal given his personality and lack of financial experience.

"Ten years ago I might not have guessed we'd be here today, but Jeff has had a combination of good choices and good fortune," said Bruce Berman, a former production president at the studio and head of its financing partner Village Roadshow Pictures.

Robinov's first move upon his 2007 promotion was elevating Sue Kroll to a newly created post of worldwide marketing president. At Robinov's request, the outgoing and energetic Kroll spends half of her week in an office next to his, often popping by to discuss projects.

"We don't talk about it, but Jeff and I know we're a good balance for each other," she said.

A workaholic and self-confessed "control freak," Robinov spends his little free time with his three children and exercising. He is also working with a consultant to improve his communications skills. One goal is to avoid checking his BlackBerry during meetings.

"I'm trying to relieve myself of an addiction," he said.

Robinov's detractors may see little hope that he will change. But others believe his elevated job presents an opportunity.

"I know the Jeff people see, but there's a lot that they don't see," Kroll said. "As he evolves in this position, I want everyone to watch what he brings to the table and say, 'Wow!'"

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