Rhode Island’s one billionaire, ProvEq’s Nelson, backs Doherty

April 16th, 2012 at 1:50 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island’s billionaires club is more than an elite group – it’s now a party of one.

Jonathan Nelson, founder of powerhouse PE firm Providence Equity Partners, is the only Rhode Islander who makes Forbes’ new list of the world’s 1,226 billionaires. Nelson’s net worth of $1.5 billion puts him at No. 854, which is the lower-middle class of the 10-figure set. Nelson is also No. 293 on Forbes’ list of the 400 richest Americans.

Politically, Nelson has supported Democrats frequently over the years, but not always. Just last month, he gave the maximum legal donation of $2,500 to Republican Brendan Doherty, and he also contributed to John Loughlin in 2010. Nelson has given to Lincoln Chafee, Angel Taveras, Jack Reed and Don Carcieri, as well. He donated to Barack Obama in 2008 but hasn’t given to any presidential candidates this year.

Nelson used to have another Rhode Islander’s company on the Forbes list: Hope Hill van Beuren, the Campbell’s Soup heiress who lives in Middletown. But van Beuren has fallen off Forbes’ radar screen – the last time she appeared was in March 2011, when her $1.1 billion fortune put her at No. 1,057 among the world’s 1,210 billionaires. (She gave $2,500 to Mitt Romney in February.)

Nelson, 55, was raised in Providence by an orthodontist, graduated from Brown in 1977, and went on to found ProvEq in 1989. Here’s how Forbes describes its recipe for success: “Buys media and telecom companies, improves operations, sells for big profit.” Among the familiar names in ProvEq’s $26 billion portfolio these days is Hulu, the streaming TV show hub.

Nelson and his wife, Judy, live in a $1.5 million home on Providence’s East Side. While Rhode Island’s richest man rarely makes headlines locally, he’s been generous to Brown – funding its new fitness center in 2004 and making a $10 million gift last year – and is on the board for Newport’s iconic jazz and folk festivals.

While Nelson is hardly hurting for cash, his wealth hasn’t entirely recovered from the financial crisis; he’s still down about $500 million from his $2 billion net worth that Forbes estimated back in October 2008, the month after Lehman Bros. collapsed. But he’s rebounded from the low of $1.35 billion he hit in September 2010.

Update: A reader on Aquidneck Island writes in and notes Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, whose $36 billion net worth makes him the sixth-richest man in the world, owns the $7.1 million Beechwood Mansion on Bellevue Avenue. That’s true, but Forbes still lists Woodside, Calif., as Ellison’s primary place of residence.

• Related: How MGM took Rhode Island’s richest man to the cleaners (March 14)

(image credit: CharlieRose.com)

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One Response to “Rhode Island’s one billionaire, ProvEq’s Nelson, backs Doherty”

  1. Mr. Fish says:

    Surprise surprise surprise….