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GE Exec Pilot to Replace NBCU’s Turner, Sources Say

Dec 1, 2006  •  Post A Comment

NBC Universal is expected to announce that long-time General Electric executive Mike Pilot will replace Keith Turner as president for advertising sales at the media business, sources said.

Mr. Pilot’s name began circulating in ad sales and buying circles on Friday after Mr. Turner announced his plans to leave NBC after nearly 20 years.

An announcement could be made as early as Monday, sources said. NBCU officials declined to comment and a GE spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Mr. Pilot is a career GE man, having worked at the company since leaving college in 1984, according to a company document found on the Internet. He has worked as president of GE’s Capital Solutions, U.S. Equipment Financing unit, where he oversaw almost $30 billion in assets. He is credited for coming up with sales strategies that reinvented a 30-year-old business, resulting in a 44 percent increase in retail volume and a doubling of net income in the last two years.

Mr. Turner’s replacement will take over sales at a network that in the last two seasons has tumbled from a dominant No. 1 position in television ratings, revenue and profitability. The network’s decline in fortunes cut ad sales by about $800 million in 2005 and revenue didn’t bounce back at this year’s upfront advertising market.

NBC Universal Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker has responded with a reorganization that will trim 700 jobs and $750 million in spending as part of a plan to point the company toward a digital future.

An outsider to the TV industry like Mr. Pilot, backed by an experienced NBC ad-sales team, may be able to make the kinds of changes someone with more experience in the television business might not. His shift fits into GE’s culture, where successful executives in one business are sometimes moved to others, as in the case of NBCU Chairman Bob Wright.

Mr. Turner’s decision to leave follows the departure last month of Randy Falco, president and COO of the NBCU Television Group, who became chairman and CEO of AOL. The two men worked closely together for years.

David Zaslav, former president of NBCU’s cable division, also left last month, taking the CEO job at Discovery Communications.

In a memo Friday, Mr. Wright said Mr. Turner is leaving “to pursue opportunities outside the company. Keith has been an outstanding leader of our sales organization for the past eight years and has played a significant role in our success throughout his almost 20 year career at NBC.”