With Comcast (CMCSA) finalizing its deal to buy 51% of NBC Universal from General Electric (GE), skeptics are asking: Why would Comcast CEO Brian Roberts put his faith in Jeff Zucker, the NBCU chief who has dragged the NBC broadcast network from first to fourth place?
Because Jeff Zucker is one of the most determined, driven, ambitious, ingenious, competitive, compelling, resilient people you will ever meet.
Read "Life imitates TV," a Fortune profile I wrote two years ago.
This is a guy who battled cancer twice. The first time, he was 31. Zucker, who is now 44, used to schedule his chemotherapy sessions at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Friday afternoons and then sleep all weekend, so he could work like a maniac at NBC starting on Monday morning.
His cancer recurred two years later. His wife, Caryn, was four months pregnant with their second child. Doctors removed 90% of his colon. Beating cancer, Zucker told me, "prepared me for almost anything."
When Jack Welch was running GE, he was a Zucker fan. Dick Ebersol, the influential head of NBC Universal Sports, has long been Zucker's cheerleader--and his sway endures in this Comcast deal. Most critically, Jeff Immelt, GE's current chief, has backed Zucker through good times and bad.
Two years ago, when I asked him about Zucker's failure to prop up the NBC broadcast network, Immelt said: "I really don't blame Jeff. I don't accept it, but I don't blame him." He noted that Zucker, who has been at NBC for 23 years, inherited aging shows.
Indeed, NBC's primetime profits, which peaked at $650 million in 2003, have dried up. But what counts more is that Zucker has impressively built NBCU's cable networks, including CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network, and Bravo. Cable, with its dual revenue stream, is the far superior business model and where the big money is today.
Zucker's decisiveness matters too. Immelt explained to me that he evaluates all his executives on five "growth traits": inclusiveness, imagination/courage, expertise, external focus, and clear thinking/decisiveness. He rates his execs green, yellow, or red on each trait. Zucker's "green"--the top--rating? Decisiveness. "He's cocky. I kind of like that," Immelt told me, noting that Zucker is "not afraid to make tough calls."
Zucker's weakness, in Immelt's view? "He still has to work on external focus," he said. Zucker has worked on expanding his vision. Now, with a new guy, Comcast's Roberts, overseeing NBCU, he'll have to work on it even more.
Defining a brand and sticking to it is always difficult. Particularly in a downturn.
Which is why the success of Bravo - the NBC Universal cable network that serves up food, fashion, beauty, design and pop culture to upscale audiences - is all the more impressive.
This morning, I went to Bravo's "upfront" presentation, where NBCU's Lauren Zalaznick, who built the network, and her team pitched their new season and their growth MOREPatricia Sellers - Apr 14, 2009 1:55 PM ET
"I want to personally congratulate Jeff Zucker and NBCU on their success in the litigation and thank Jeff for resolving this in a professional manner."
-- Producer Harvey Weinstein in a statement Wednesday, ending a six-month battle over Project Runway. Weinstein admits he erred in moving the show from Bravo--owned by General Electric's (GE) NBC Universal--to Lifetime without giving NBCU a shot to keep it. Lifetime reportedly paid $150 million for MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Apr 2, 2009 5:51 PM ET
Barack Obama's hair is turning gray. The New York Times reported the other day that a President typically ages two years for every year in the job. Thank goodness our new President is only 47 years old. The way things are going right now, I suspect he'll age twice as fast as other Presidents.
We learned this week that things are worse than we thought. General Electric (GE) CEO Jeff Immelt, MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 6, 2009 1:02 PM ET
Guidance--the revenue and profit forecasts that companies divvy out to Wall Street analysts--is dying a slow death. Hooray for that!
As a slew of big names--Wal-Mart (WMT), Costco (COST), Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo (YHOO), among them--announced in the past two weeks that they would suspend or limit guidance because of economic uncertainty, analysts who follow these companies have reacted skeptically. Not giving 2009 guidance "hardly instills confidence in the business," Sanford MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 6, 2009 3:25 PM ET
"The more challenged you are, the more you have to have your values."
-- Jim Collins, management guru and author of Built to Last and Good to Great, in a Q&A in the current issue of Fortune. As he notes, companies like Procter & Gamble (PG), General Electric (GE), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and IBM (IBM) have an incredible fabric of values--underlying ideals that explain why the companies exist. Even more MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jan 22, 2009 6:25 PM ET
You think you lost a bundle in the market? The CEOs who lead the companies in the upper decks of the Fortune 500 have fared even worse: Their stock holdings in their own companies declined in value by $54 billion last year.
A just-released study by executive compensation consultancy Steven Hall & Partners sums up the damage. For CEOs who head 175 of the top 200 corporations in the Fortune 500, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 22, 2009 2:06 PM ET
I'm on vacation this week -- or I'm supposed to be! The blog world never sleeps, I guess, nor does learning while away. So I'll share with you a few things I'm learning here in Allentown, Pa.
Aside from plowing snow, I've been plowing through the invite list for next year's Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. This, as you may know, is the annual powwow that accompanies the release of what MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 23, 2008 2:16 PM ET
Where did America's richest man and one of Wall Street's most powerful CEOs meet face to face for the first time after their $5 billion deal? The Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, a three-day, invitation-only gathering of the world's most prominent women leaders.
So who let the guys in? Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) and Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein were two of just three men invited this year; MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 16, 2008 3:16 PM ET
Here on Postcards, you'll find a trove of video segments from last week's Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit. Click here to watch a riveting take on the fall of Lehman Brothers by Barbara Byrne, a vice chairman who spent 28 years at the now-bankrupt firm. Today, since Barclays bought Lehman's North American core, Byrne is a vice chairman at Barclays Capital (BCS).
We also just posted the first of several highlights MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 8, 2008 12:41 PM ET
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