How much money he made is really anyone’s guess. When Mr. Nevo began appearing a few years ago on certain lists, like Vanity Fair’s New Establishment list, Forbes tried to gauge Mr. Nevo’s wealth to see if he belonged on the magazine’s list of billionaires, but ultimately gave up trying. Mr. Nevo owns homes in Malibu, Calif.; the Los Angeles-area neighborhood of Brentwood; the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York; London; and two homes in Tel Aviv, including his modest childhood home outside the city, which sits empty. In addition, he and Ms. Zhang recently bought a home in Beijing.
“Vivi is a very hard worker, and we’d begin chatting about the markets in the early morning, and then we’d talk late in the afternoon,” said Bob Packer, who ran Goldman Sachs’s institutional equities unit in San Francisco and handled many of Mr. Nevo’s trades. “He loved working with the markets. He’s just a really affable, wonderful, loyal guy.”
In the case of Time Warner, his relationship with the company and its executives began in the early to mid-1990s, when he established a relationship with Gerald M. Levin, then chief executive.
“It was in a social context,” Mr. Levin said, trying to recall how he met Mr. Nevo. “I would go to every major fight that HBO had in Las Vegas. It was either at the fights in Las Vegas or at some movie premiere. No, I think it was in Vegas.”
“I spoke to him about Time Warner and what we were doing. Increasingly, he got interested. Unlike some other financial players, he has an interest not just in the financial aspect itself but also the personalities. The social nexus is part of his understanding and analysis.”
Joseph Ravitch, a prominent media investment banker at Goldman Sachs, said Mr. Nevo was “extraordinarily Zelig-like in the sense that he endears himself to a totally diverse group of people from C.E.O.’s to artists and rock stars.”
“But it’s not really Zelig,” he continued, “because he is always the same, open and straightforward Vivi.”
Several years ago, Joseph R. Perella, who led investment banking for Morgan Stanley and was the senior banker on the Time Warner account, received a phone call from Mr. Parsons. “Parsons said, I know a guy you’d like to meet,” Mr. Perella recalled. “Interesting guy. Knows a lot about the business.”
Mr. Perella said they hit it off almost immediately over lunch at San Pietro, a Manhattan restaurant favored by investment bankers. “He’s one of the least boring types I have ever met,” Mr. Perella said. “My sense is he’s a self-made guy who made it himself. He’s just a smart investor. As for the building blocks of his fortune, I have no idea.”
Of late, Mr. Nevo has been sprinkling money around in private companies, many of which are new media ventures. He has around 25 private investments, according to a business associate, including stakes in Demand Media, a social networking company; CityVoter, a social site that allows city dwellers to post about things like where to eat and where to shop; an online music site, Buzznet; Spot Runner, an online advertising company; and the Internet video company Joost. He also has an investment in the Weinstein Company, the film company run by the brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and had a small investment in Bette, a now-shuttered New York restaurant that was owned by Amy Sacco, a prominent nightlife entrepreneur.
Many of the investments are modest in size — about $1 million in the Weinsteins; six figures in Demand Media — but Mr. Nevo’s association with a company brings value beyond the size of the check he writes. “He’s sort of like a media Wizard of Oz,” said Tyler Goldman, the founder of Buzznet, who approached Mr. Nevo last year about investing. “He had some strategic advice, but mostly relationship advice. We were working on a number of deals with bigger media companies, and he had advice on how to approach those.”
Nick Grouf, the chief executive of Spot Runner, said that Mr. Nevo was instrumental in brokering relationships, including with Lachlan Murdoch, who also invested. “Vivi has been very helpful to us in making introductions to his friends,” Mr. Grouf said. “Lachlan is a great example. And with Time Warner, I met Dick Parsons through Vivi.”
In fact, Mr. Nevo’s value — beyond friendship — to many executives is his wealth of information and contacts. “Vivi is plugged in to everything,” Mr. Parsons said. “He hears everything.”
For others, Mr. Nevo is a great friend with a comfy house in Malibu in which to crash, as Lenny Kravitz did during the West Coast part of his 2004 world tour. “It was nice to just have a place to put your stuff,” Mr. Kravitz said in an interview. “If I had to say anything about Vivi Nevo, it’s that he’s all heart. He operates on trust, heart and feeling.”
And about Mr. Nevo’s business? “I don’t go there with him,” Mr. Kravitz said. “And that’s part of our understanding. I’m interested in Vivi Nevo the person.”