NBC positions execs for future

May 14, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In a smooth move of executive pieces on the management chess board, NBC has strengthened the role of its key player in the court of parent company General Electric Co., sketched a line of succession at the network, set its sights on growth and turned its news division over to a veteran producer who inspires an extraordinary amount of respect and affection from competitors as well as colleagues.
Effective June 4, Bob Wright will be elevated to chairman and CEO, Andrew Lack will become NBC president and chief operating officer, and “Dateline NBC” executive producer Neal Shapiro will succeed Mr. Lack as NBC News president.
While Mr. Wright focuses on broad strategies and on working with GE Chairman-elect Jeff Immelt on the TV-related issues that are all new to the man who will inherit GE’s reins from retiring Chairman Jack Welch later this year, Mr. Lack and Mr. Shapiro also will concentrate on growing the areas of the business they control.
Long hanging over NBC-the only broadcast network not allied with a major studio-are rumors and conventional wisdom that the network is too small for this vertically and horizontally integrated era and is thus up for sale or ripe for takeover.
“We’re always on the lookout for opportunities, either acquisitions or partnerships,” Mr. Wright said. “I think these markets may bring some things to our attention, and Andy and I are both on the lookout for them.”
He stressed that his mandate is to “find good solid growth opportunities.”
“It is not to sell the company,” he said. “It is not to merge the company. It is not to break it up. It is a very clear, precise challenge: Grow by acquisition, grow by internal growth, grow by development, grow by extension of what we have.”
Mr. Wright, who enjoys the longest tenure of any current network president, said, “Andy and I both have to live by the sword in terms of our ability to meet objectives and accomplish things. We do live in a meritocracy.”
Mr. Wright will continue to oversee finance and CNBC International, in addition to NBC Sports because “I can work with Dick [Ebersol] on that pretty effectively.”
Mr. Lack, who after years of growing NBC News had flirted with leaving NBC in search of his next challenge, paid his first-ever visit to the network’s sales department last week.
He’s more familiar with the owned-stations division headed by Jay Ireland, a newcomer to broadcasting, and with affiliate relations. That falls under NBC Television Network President Randy Falco, who had been a leading contender to succeed Mr. Wright, “but I haven’t walked in their shoes enough,” Mr. Lack said.
Mr. Lack is not only familiar with the entertainment side of television, with which he has long been enamored, but he was also NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker’s boss until last January, when Mr. Zucker was promoted from his post as executive producer of “Today.”
NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa, whose contract is up this year, was also presumed to be in the race to become Mr. Wright’s heir apparent. Mr. Wright and Mr. Lack said they hope to keep Mr. Sassa at NBC.