How I Made It

Nicholas Carpou, Universal's distribution chief, enjoys record-setting year

The gig: Nicholas Carpou is president of Universal Pictures' domestic distribution, which means he oversees the studio's theatrical sales in North America. He leads a team of about 80 people who are responsible for licensing films in theaters and collecting the revenue from ticket sales.

Carpou, 63, has had a great run since he replaced longtime distribution chief Nikki Rocco in January. The studio has had its biggest year ever at the worldwide box office. Universal's movies — including "Fifty Shades of Grey," "Furious 7," "Pitch Perfect 2" and "Jurassic World" — have grossed more than $4.5 billion globally. That surpasses the century-old studio's previous record of $3.69 billion in 2013, when it released "Despicable Me 2" and "Fast & Furious 6." And Universal still has six months to go in the year, with films including "Minions" and "Steve Jobs." "Minions," in particular, was poised for a big opening when it hit North American theaters Friday. As of Thursday, the "Despicable Me" spinoff has already collected $141.5 million in 26 territories overseas including Germany, Spain, Argentina and Colombia.

Education: Sonoma State University, where he studied art with a focus in cinema.

Personal: Though Carpou was born in Oklahoma City, the executive grew up in San Francisco and considers it his hometown. He now lives in Ventura County with his wife and 17-year-old daughter. His other daughter is 26. Framed photos of Carpou's family surround his office, alongside painted portraits by a Marin County artist and relics from Universal movies (including a few mini Minions). In his free time, Carpou enjoys rooting for Bay Area sports teams (including the San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors), playing golf and jamming on his guitar.

All about the numbers: The 38-year veteran of film distribution joined Universal's San Francisco branch office in 1982. Before that, he worked at United Artists Corp. and Associated Film Distribution. All of his jobs entailed working with numbers, including doing sales, booking, billing and batch processing. "The thing about sales and distribution is that once you start on that path and you're good at it, it takes you into management," Carpou said. "Eventually you find yourself in the right place at the right time. I consider my story one of luck. When consolidation happened in the late '80s I was already in California, so it made sense to move to L.A., the home office."

Like father, like son: The entertainment business runs in Carpou's blood. His father worked in distribution at Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer's San Francisco division for 36 years. Carpou said he enjoyed bonding over their shared passion. "My dad had this sort of joy of life about him that was infectious. People loved him," Carpou said. "I wanted to have a better connection with him.... Luckily we spent a few years before he died having this in common."

One true love: Carpou met his wife at Universal in San Francisco. The two hit it off after being office friends. When it came time for his move to L.A., he said his wife's response was: "OK, when are we going?" The couple moved to Southern California in 1987 and got married in 1988.

Industry camaraderie: His relationship with his wife isn't the only notable connection Carpou made while working in Hollywood. "I've always thought it was true if you have a really successful business relationship with someone, chances are you will have more," he said. Carpou considers many people around him, including Rocco, his mentors and friends. "My dad, my mom, my brother, my wife.... You learn from everyone," he said. "The people you work with, the people you work for, the people you sell to or buy from. If you don't do that, then you are missing something. I don't think you ever stop learning."

Memorable moment: "Meeting my wife," said Carpou, who has been part of releasing more than 550 movies at Universal since he first started at the studio. When asked about his most recent memorable moment, he pointed to the year's robust film slate. "We tell ourselves to stop, celebrate, have that moment and really feel it," he said, noting the recent record-setting box office run for "Jurassic World." The film topped the box office domestically for three weekends in a row, outpacing newcomers including "Magic Mike XXL" and "Terminator Genisys."

Biggest challenge: Inspiring others is no easy feat, which is why Carpou works hard to help his employees be the best they can be. "Frankly, what makes it tough is that they already are the best they can be," he said. "And I'm trying to find a way to be relevant to them in a new way. It's an extraordinary group of people and I love them all."

Secret to success: Simple: "Learn to like people more," Carpou said. "Films change but relationships stay the same."

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