The Bizarre World of Nell Minow

Nell Minow, movie reviewer and one of the leading experts in America on corporate governance, is perhaps the most bizarre woman in America.
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On Tuesday, Nell Minow got a rave in the "Ask Amy" column. A parent was concerned about finding movies, and was recommended to Minow's wonderful website, Movie Mom.

It was just another typical moment in the life of perhaps the most bizarre woman in America.

Nell Minow writes insightfully about movies with her encyclopedia knowledge of film history. She's loves movies. Giddily so. In fact, for all her scholarship, there is also a goofball in there. Her standards are high, yet she openly acknowledges being a "sci-fi fan girl geek." She adored Transformers rapturously -- though just the first one. She centers her year around attending the Comic-Con festival, the way a child awaits Christmas morning.

A recent profile of Ms. Minow in the Washington Post quoted the paper's former film critic, Desson Thomson, describing her as "goofily blissful," adding, "I never have met anyone in the business who simply enjoys being at a movie so much -- even if it's the hokiest musical. I'm absolutely appalled about 80 percent of the time, and then I look over at her, and she's just so happy to be there."

Make no mistake, she can trash a film with the best of them -- but she just loves watching movies. Loves writing about movies. Loves being among movies critics. She enthuses movies. Her infatuation is what gives her Movie Mom website an utterly fascinating sweep. Not just the reviews, but the essays, commentaries and blog updates.

But that's not what makes her life bizarre.

You see, being a movie critic is only one of her jobs. For her other job, Nell Minow is one of the leading experts in America on corporate governance.

Businessweek called her "the queen of corporate good governance," she was named one of the field's 20 most influential people by Directorship magazine, and last year she received the prestigious International Corporate Governance Network Award for exceptional achievement. Above all, she's co-founder and editor of the acclaimed Corporate Library, a research firm for oversight on corporations and executive compensation.

Needless-to-say, she's had a busy year. As Wall Street collapsed and executives received ungodly bonuses, Nell Minow was in demand on most every TV network for comment. And her comments were brutally harsh.

In fact, the very day "Ask Amy" was recommending her Movie Mom website, the Wall Street Journal interviewed her about new AIG chief executive Robert Benmosche. "I can't think of a more foolish beginning for him," she said bluntly. "It's just unbelievably poor judgment...."

Just a typical day. And typical quote.

I've known Nell Minow since growing up in Glencoe, Illinois, outside Chicago. The family moved away, but came back when we both briefly overlapped at Northwestern University. We lost touch for a while, but one day she read one of my Huffington posts. She wrote to ask if I remembered her. Ha. You don't forget Nell Minow.

She was a lawyer for the Justice Department and EPA, and has filled-in reviewing for Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun Times. Her page offers "The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies" and three books on corporate governance co-authored with Robert A. Monks.

Just an atypical resume.

By the way, the reason she moved from Glencoe is because her father was appointed by President John Kennedy to be FCC Commissioner. In fact, Newton Minow remains probably the only FCC Commissioner that anyone actually knows of -- he was the man who famously described television as "a vast wasteland." But it's more than that. You know on the TV show, Gilligan's Island, where they took a 3-hour cruise on the S.S. Minnow? Guess who that's named after? Honest.

(Indeed, the family keeps working its way into the American fabric. Nell Minow's sister Martha is dean of Harvard Law School. One day, when just a mere professor there, she called her father at his Sidley Austin law firm in Chicago and recommended he hire the smartest student she'd ever taught. Barack Obama. And it was at the firm that he met another lawyer, Michelle Robinson. You know the rest.)

As for her own marriage, Nell Minow is with her childhood sweetheart, David Apatoff, an accomplished Washington lawyer, who grew up two blocks from me. This lead to two children, Benjamin and Rachel -- which lead to the Movie Mom, 15 years ago.

Apatoff jokes that she picked two careers where she always gets to give her views. And she gives them with fearless honesty. How much so? Once when advising shareholders, she recommended they drop one of the Board of Directors. It was her father! (He'd missed too many meetings for her standards. When he explained to her his excellent reasons, she graciously understood his excuse -- and repeated her recommendation.)

I've long suspected that the seven most terrifying words to a corporate executive are, "I have Nell Minow on Line Two."

She's cowed by no one. Exactly what you want in a watchdog.

An online Q&A she did for the Washington Post is hilarious to read, as it ranges back-and-forth between questions on movies and SEC filings. She answers them all in breathtaking detail and expertise.

This is someone who sends emails, like: "Today, I gave a speech to the National Association of Businessmen, testified before Barney Frank's House Financial Services Committee, interviewed the star of Taking Woodstock, and went to a screening of Halloween II.

I'm not exaggerating.

She is a pit bull on corporate governance, but though she reviews movies under the banner of family, she is not remotely moralistic as the Movie Mom. She'll tell the reader what to be aware of. But she'll give an R-rated movie a rave if she loves it and trash a G-rated film she thinks is mindless.

And then is off to do an interview on CNN, or the Today Show blasting irresponsible executive bonuses. And testify again before Congress. And then cram in Movie Mom radio broadcasts, calling DJs on stations across the country.

Just another day in the Bizarre World of Nell Minow.

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