When the going gets tough, the tough get going. To Philadelphia. That is, if you’re NBCU chief Jeff Zucker. I’m sure long beleaguered GE shareholders, and soon to be beleaguered Comcast shareholders (that is, if Zucker stays on after the merger) are overjoyed to hear that, on the eve of what’s being described as the most intensely competitive opening week for broadcast networks in recent memory, Zucker was giving a speech to Wharton students. About the science of good leadership. Because he’s supposed to be an expert. “After all, we’re not paying $80,000 a year to end up in middle management,” archly wrote the official Wharton account of the mogul’s visit. “Who better to teach us the skills of leadership than NBC Universal’s president and CEO Jeffrey Zucker.” Stop laughing, readers.
Even the Wharton account of his Thursday visit had little positive to say about NBC under Zucker. His “committing to ideas outside of the boundaries of generally accepted business practices … [was] super-sized episodes of Friends, adding 10 minutes to each show. ‘I was willing to take chances and it worked,’ he said.” Zucker as always wanted to talk only of the cable networks which his predecessor Bob Wright had left him. “If we didn’t have the NBC network, people would think we were the best entertainment company.”
But it was Zucker’s philosophical words to the kids that I particularly relished: “‘Content is king,’ he said. ‘It’s cheap to be first, but it’s expensive to be right.’ While Zucker acknowledged that he hasn’t always been right (for example, in selecting management of the NBC broadcast network,” the account noted about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, that colossal fuck-up Ben Silverman, “he said that ‘having the fortitude to accept consequences for a mistake is one of the primary tenors of leadership. He summarized his leadership advice in 3 C’s: courage, commitment and character. ‘Be willing to make a mistake but don’t make it twice. Have the courage to take a chance, but take responsibility if it doesn’t work out. Have the character to live through trials, but have the commitment to find a way out.’”
Which is why, Wharton students, Zucker has been, is now, and probably will forever be known by the moniker “Teflon Jeff”.