Petaluma native Kevin Tsujihara has been named chief executive of the Warner Bros. studio, ending a fiercely fought battle for one of the most powerful jobs in Hollywood.
Tsujihara, 48, will become the first Asian American to run a major Hollywood studio.
When he becomes CEO on March 1, Tsujihara's priority will be determining how Hollywood's largest studio can continue to profit from feature films and TV shows as people increasingly watch their entertainment on tablets, game consoles and even smartphones.
He also must calm a company that has been roiled by a tumultuous two-year corporate runoff between Tsujihara and two rival executives who wanted the job.
"Change can be unnerving, change can be disconcerting," Tsujihara said. "The utmost important thing is to safeguard what is most important and cherished here at Warner Bros.: our management team and our relationships with creative talent."
He will become only the fifth leader in the 90-year history of Warner Bros., home of Bugs Bunny, Batman and "The Big Bang Theory."
Warner Bros. is regularly No. 1 or No. 2 in the annual box-office ranking, has the top market share in home video and sells more TV shows to networks than any other studio. Revenue in 2011 climbed 9 percent to $12.6 billion.
Tsujihara grew up in Petaluma, where his parents, Shizuo and Mickey Tsujihara, and other family members owned Empire Egg Company, distributing eggs to markets and stores across the Bay Area.
After graduating from the University of Southern California and earning an MBA from Stanford University, Tsujihara launched QuickTax Inc., a tax preparation website. He joined Warner Bros. in 1994 to help manage the company's interest in Six Flags and worked his way up the ranks, focusing on business development and online content.
In 2005, he was named president of Warner Bros.' home entertainment unit, which is responsible for home video, online distribution and video games.
His ascension is notable not only because of the lack of racial diversity in Hollywood's corporate suites but also because studio chiefs in the past have come from the worlds of television, marketing and film distribution — but never the newer business of home entertainment.
The famously stable studio has been gripped by tension for two years, since senior managers set up a power-sharing arrangement to groom a successor to current chairman Barry Meyer, who plans to retire in December after 14 years at the helm.
Tsujihara's humble and low-key management style ultimately trumped the more aggressive personalities of two rivals who also wanted the job: Bruce Rosenblum, president of the television group, and Jeff Robinov, the film studio chief.
"Everyone needs a leader, and Kevin was the person best equipped to unify the company at this time," Meyer said. "We just thought he was the best choice for the whole company."
Warner Bros. is widely viewed as one of the most progressive studios in testing new digital businesses, earning Tsujihara his share of allies and critics.
Under his leadership, Warner Bros. became the first studio to adopt UltraViolet, a "digital locker" service that enables consumers who buy movies to access them on any Internet-connected device. But the technology prompted initial negative reviews in the tech community. Tsujihara also oversaw many of the company's early efforts to produce content tailored for the Internet, most of which fizzed as the dot-com bubble burst.
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