An Inconvenient Truth

Jeff Skoll: Becoming Superman

October 18, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

The entrepreneur backs heady causes and finances serious films (including documentary of the moment Waiting for "Superman"). How did this unassuming Canadian billionaire become a philanthropic superhero?

A few years ago Jeff Skoll, recently arrived in Hollywood from Silicon Valley, took a call from George Clooney. Clooney had directed Good Night, and Good Luck, one of the first films that Skoll financed, and positive reviews had begun fueling Skoll's reputation for backing serious projects. Clooney, it turns out, was doing someone else's bidding: Veteran newscaster Dan Rather wanted an introduction. "Well, George," Skoll teased the perennial Sexiest Man Alive. "I hate it when people use you to get to me."

This is how life has changed for the 45-year-old Skoll: Because he is superrich (he was the first full-time employee of eBay) people want access to him -- and they're willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get an audience. It amuses him and his friends, many of whom confess to wanting to shield him from opportunists and glad-handers. Skoll, you see, is about the shyest, quietest, humblest media mogul and philanthropist imaginable. "He's not in the swagger game," says Jim Berk, the entertainment industry executive Skoll hired to run his film company, Participant Media, which he founded in 2004. "If you put 50 people in the room and tried to find the billionaire, you'd get into the 40s before you found Jeff Skoll." More

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