The Survival of the Fittest

In 2006, Sumner made headlines again for publicly firing Tom Cruise, a decision he has never regretted. He cited Cruise’s poor box-office receipts and his controversial wacky behavior for his decision, though most believe it was strictly for financial reasons. Cruise and his partner were getting a cushy $10 million a year for keeping their office on the lot, and Sumner has always been a firm believer that script is the most important element of a film. “Without a good script,” says Sumner, “you don’t have a good movie, no matter what star is in the role.” This coming from the man that coined the phrase “content is king.”

For the last decade, Sumner has been splitting his time between New York and Los Angeles, though in recent years he’s finding himself more at home on the West Coast. If a home is indicative of the owner, in comparison to his wealth and the homes of his neighbors, Sumner’s is modest. Nestled in a gated community and perched on the hillside of a cul-de-sac, this four-bedroom manor boasts a large koi pond, home theater, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a tennis court, and fitness room—just the basic essentials. Sumner finds relaxation competing on the tennis court. Legendary film producer and former head of Paramount, Robert Evans, once said, “I’ve played with every tennis pro including Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. Sumner’s more competitive. He screams and argues about every point. He’s the single most competitive tennis player I’ve ever seen. And this coming from a guy who has to strap a racket to a glove because of his burn injury.”

Competitive: yes. Materialistic: surprisingly not. Sumner has always said he has never been driven by money, just the desire to win. In fact, he claims the only thing of material value that he owns is his house.

“That’s true,” says Sumner. “In fact, I used to buy my suits off the rack from Filene’s Basement in Boston until my associates at Viacom told me I needed to stop that. I used to just travel by cab and my associates said it’s not safe and I needed to get a car and driver. So yes, I have never had a real interest in anything material.”

The house is more than a home to Sumner, “It’s paradise,” he says. He knew he had to buy it when he walked out back, looked at the infinity pool and Jacuzzi with sprawling views of the trees and bushes that were peppered along the peaks and valleys of Beverly Hills. His favorite room of the house is what he refers to as the fish room. It’s a cozy den with floor-to-ceiling windows and striking fish tanks built into surrounding walls. Not surprisingly, Sumner boasts he has the largest private collection for saltwater fish in the world, which he keeps in seven tanks. He even has a hospital tank in the garage to nurse the sick and weak.

“I find it mesmerizing,” explains Sumner. “When I’m working, I love to sit and look at such beautiful fish and I understand that by doing this it lowers your blood pressure, to be caught-up by such beauty.”

Sumner knows the names, characteristics, and behaviors of each one. Perhaps it’s this acute sense of observation that enables him to tune into the zeitgeist, or perhaps he was just born at the right time, but every move he makes seems to be the right one. Upon mentioning the word legacy, he’s quick to say that he’s going to live forever and no matter where he is in 100 years he will still control Viacom. Though softness emerged from the media mogul as he smiled and said, “I make it my business to look when I’m driving to see the foliage, to see the trees, to see the houses, and I think that is very advantageous, to spend time looking at what’s around you, the beautiful things around you.”

If, by chance, Sumner has a legacy to leave behind, besides the obvious groundbreaking, worldwide media revolution, it’s that we can all learn to take our time to smell the roses.