Film and television production company Legendary Entertainment has named longtime industry lawyer Joshua Grode as its new chief executive, the company said Tuesday.
Grode, who has served as an adviser to Legendary’s Beijing-based parent company Dalian Wanda Group for years, joins the Burbank-based producer from law firm Irell & Manella, where he was a partner in its Los Angeles office.
The hire concludes months of speculation about Legendary, which has been without a permanent CEO since founder Thomas Tull left in January. Interim chief Jack Gao left Legendary and Wanda last month.
In his new job, Grode will be tasked with establishing the business strategy to expand Legendary, which is best known for big-budget movies including “Dark Knight” and “Kong: Skull Island.” Part of his job will be to devise ways to take advantage of Wanda’s other assets, including its massive cinema holdings and shopping malls.
Grode, a corporate finance expert who has worked on many high-profile entertainment deals, has worked closely with Legendary to clean up the studio’s balance sheet during the last year. Legendary is now capitalized with more than $700 million in equity and has eliminated its debt load, according to sources close to Legendary who were not authorized to comment.
Grode said the firm’s improved finances will help Legendary adapt to massive changes in the entertainment business brought on by disruption from digital players. Part of his plan is to pursue acquisitions, including data-driven companies, he said.
“The company has an extremely strong balance sheet right now,” Grode said in an interview. “That liquidity affords tremendous opportunity.”
Wanda, the real estate conglomerate controlled by billionaire Wang Jianlin, owns the world’s largest movie theater business. Along with theaters in China, Wanda is the largest shareholder of Leawood, Kan.-based AMC Entertainment, the biggest theater circuit in the United States.
Mary Parent will continue as Legendary’s vice chairman of worldwide production for the company, overseeing creative aspects of the studio. Legendary’s upcoming films include “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and “Detective Pikachu.”
Though Grode has never run an entertainment company, he has been involved in some major transactions, including Wanda’s $3.5-billion purchase of Legendary last year.
He previously worked on the 2010 sale of Miramax to private equity firm Colony Capital for $660 million, and this year’s sale of Miramax to Qatar’s BeIN Media for an undisclosed amount. He has also advised the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences, Summit Entertainment and A24 on financing deals.
Wanda’s Hollywood ambitions have been stymied by the Chinese government’s crackdown on foreign deal-making. The increased regulatory scrutiny in China, meant to protect the local currency and economy, helped scuttle a plan to merge Legendary with Wanda’s publicly traded film assets. The clampdown also scuttled Wanda’s planned $1-billion deal to buy Dick Clark Productions.