Through the steamy summer of 2003, NBC Chairman Robert C. Wright, 60, was just one in a pack of bidders trying to buy Paris-based Vivendi's Universal TV and movie studio units. Then, during the week of Aug. 12, things started coming together. Undeterred by the blackout that hit New York City on Thursday, one of Wright's deputies, NBC business development chief Brandon Burgess, reviewed negotiating points with Vivendi execs by candlelight after they trudged up eight flights to Burgess's apartment. By Friday, when it became clear the French were warming to GE based on its offer and track record, Wright insisted that fresh foie gras be flown in to the city.
Those frenetic days paid off when NBC, General Electric Co. (GE)'s lone entertainment unit, locked up the Vivendi assets in a deal announced on Oct. 8. The merger of NBC and Vivendi Universal, expected to close in the first half of 2004, is a defining event in Wright's 17 years as NBC chief. The joint operations will have annual combined revenues of nearly $14 billion, making NBC, with Bravo and Telemundo, into a movie, network, and cable force to be reckoned with.
During the media consolidation booms in the 1980s and '90s, Wright was forced to sit on the sidelines, constrained by the financial controls imposed by his mentor, former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch. Wright grew NBC internally, launching cable outlets CNBC and MSNBC with partner Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) New GE CEO Jeff Immelt is more committed to the media business and saw Universal as an unusually good fit. Wright is still more GE exec than flamboyant media honcho. But no doubt, sitting atop NBC Universal could tap the inner mogul in this Six Sigma acolyte.
-- Beat out bidders to merge NBC with Vivendi's Universal movie and TV studios, USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel, and theme parks, forming a company valued at $43 billion.
-- Oversaw the launch of hot show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on NBC's Bravo channel and a record-breaking $3 billion advertising up front for NBC's new season.