Q&A: Rhode Island’s richest man is making moves

Jonathan Nelson of Providence Equity Partners.
Jonathan Nelson of Providence Equity Partners.Kevork Djansezian/Reuters

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Happy Friday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and I think Chris Rock is totally great in the new season of “Fargo.” Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to Dan.McGowan@globe.com.

ICYMI: Rhode Island was up to 24,914 confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, after 170 new cases. The most recent test-positive rate was 1.6 percent. The state announced three more deaths, bringing the total to 1,117. There were 94 people in the hospital, six in intensive care, and seven were on ventilators.


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Breaking overnightPresident Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19.

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Jonathan Nelson might be the wealthiest man in Rhode Island, but the founder and chief executive of Providence Equity Partners often flies under the radar locally. Until now.

Nelson, whom Forbes pegs as having a net worth of $2 billion, announced this week that he is transitioning to executive chairman of the investment firm as it brings in a new group of leaders. The 64-year-old will still lead the company’s investment committee.

So what do these changes mean for Nelson and his company? Here’s a brief Q&A we did this week.

Q: You’re transitioning to the role of executive chairman at Providence Equity with the goal of welcoming in a new generation of leaders. How much of a day-to-day role will you continue to have with the company, and should we expect the firm to keep an office in Rhode Island?

Nelson: Looking out 10 years, which is the way to think about this, I think the senior managing directors will do a great job and I will be there to help any way I can. I will have less to do with day-to-day management, but will be otherwise fully engaged at Providence. For example, I remain chair of the Investment Committee. I would expect that we will continue to have a Providence office and one in Boston, and, as a global firm, we also have important offices in New York and London.


Q: Tell us about the most memorable deal you’ve made at Providence Equity. Is there one story that sticks out?

Nelson: There have been many that I will never forget. The common threads of the most memorable ones involve building a strong and lasting relationship with a CEO and/or team at the portfolio company. I am still very close with some former CEOs decades after our deal together. What is interesting to me is that a memory of an investment is not related to returns, but the relationship with the CEO and in a few cases, being part of something that had a broad positive impact.

Q: Your company has been a major behind-the-scenes player in media over the last 30 years. It feels like we’re seeing so much consolidation in the business right now, but I’m curious about what makes you most hopeful and most concerned about the media over the next 10 years.

Nelson: Investment in networks and devices (especially mobile), proliferation of  high-quality content, and broader access will create an amazing period to be a consumer or a creator of media. Sure beats the age of a handful of networks appearing only in the living room.


Q: You’ve been one of the biggest philanthropists in Rhode Island for many years. As you change your role with Providence Equity, should we expect more of that? Are there any causes in particular that you’d like to support?

Nelson: At some point I will have more time for philanthropic work, and I look forward to that. But that is down the road as I am still committed to Providence Equity.

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⚓ After another violent night in Providence, Amanda Milkovits dives into what’s driving the uptick in crime and what leaders are doing to address it.

⚓ The son of former Patriarca crime family underboss Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo is facing federal charges that he defrauded the government of more than $3.3 million in a payroll tax scheme.

⚓ Nice to see Emma Ramadan from Riffraff get a shoutout in the Globe’s roundup of New England literary news.

⚓ I was a guest on The Public’s Radio’s “Political Roundtable” this week with state Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, WPRI’s Steph Machado, and host Ian Donnis. You can listen to the show here.

⚓ Rhode Map readers have sent another round of Happy Birthday wishes to: Lauren McGowan (That’s my sis!), Sean Abernathy (32), John PagliariniDan GertrudesLori Nelson (45), Juliet Lewis (94), Kira GreeneRick Cimini (29), Sashi Coderre (14), Sister Pat RahaimJack Hogan (61), Justice Ameer GainesEmily KooStephany Lopes, and Bea Lanzi. In non-birthday news, here’s a big congratulations to everyone who took the bar exam in Rhode Island this week. I hope you all become my sources one day.


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⚓ Education: Will your children learn anything this school year? How will they make friends? Is all that screen time bad for them? Kara Baskin talked to the experts to try to get answers to these pressing questions.

⚓ Economy: The head of the Small Business Administration was in Boston Thursday to meet with recipients of Paycheck Protection Program loans and to help answer questions about the program.

⚓ Comedy: With Saturday Night Live set to return this week, Matthew Gilbert breaks down the very best political impersonations in the show’s history.

⚓ Health: It sounds like young people are driving the uptick in coronavirus cases in Boston, just like Rhode Island.

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Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what’s happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

⚓ The Rhode Island Board of Elections meets at 4:30 p.m. to discuss preparations for the Nov. 3 election.

⚓ The Warwick School Committee meets at 9 a.m. to discuss school reopening.

⚓ Need something fun to do tonight? Try the Trinity Beer Garden.

⚓ Do you ❤️ Rhode Map? Your subscription is what makes it possible. We’ve got a great offer here.

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Thanks for reading. Send comments and suggestions to dan.mcgowan@globe.com, or follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan. See you on Monday.

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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.