I regularly scoff whenever out-of-town media aim their powder puffs at Big Media moguls. So it is with Philadelphia Magazine’s new profile of NBC Universal boss Steve Burke which compares him to Superman and Jason Bourne among other fictional heroes. The article is a big wet smooch to Philly-based Comcast, and among other hilarity suggests that, if Burke succeeds, he could lift Comcast “into the lofty ranks of Apple and Google”. Huh? There’s no doubt that Burke is still very much in his honeymoon period with the media. He won’t talk to the media — yet. But the article says Burke himself will “do a round of media interviews” timed to Smash, the Stephen Spielberg-produced TV drama about the creation of a musical debuting on NBC mid-season with Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston. Burke will be “touting the new NBCUni and its downright Comcastic marketing strength”. Here’s more from this long article which focuses almost exclusively on TV and mentions the movie studio only once:
— One of Steve Burke’s first acts when he took over as CEO of NBCUniversal last winter was to redecorate the walls. He dispatched a staff member into the bowels of NBC’s headquarters to select 50 or 60 photos and then Burke went through them personally, choosing Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Johnny Carson, Groucho Marx, the Seinfeld cast, and NBC’s leaders like David Sarnoff and Brandon Tartikoff. The significance of the photos, according to Comcast’s CEO Brian Roberts, was that “Steve believes as a manager and human being, that people need to have some sense of greater meaning in everything they do.”
— Burke spends three nights a week in Manhattan, tending to his new job, and four in Center City Philadelphia.
— Quoted is Merrill Lynch stock analyst Jessica Reif Cohen who never met a Big Media company she couldn’t praise. Ergo this astounding quote that, Comcast could be “looked at as innovators, one of the iconic companies in American industry.” Like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon… “It’s going to take a few years to see if they can succeed with this merger but I think they’re on the verge of being mentioned with those companies.”
— “Steve understands that this is the job he was born to do,” says his close friend, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon. “This is the job that brings together everything he learned since he was a kid.”
— Old and current colleagues generally describe Burke as a model boss who connects to them on a human level — trying to find some concordance between their jobs and their dreams. He pushes past the distancing effects of jargon and PowerPoint. “Let’s talk like human beings,” he’ll say. If he writes an e-mail to an employee before 8 AM, he hits SEND later, to avoid intimidating the recipient.
— Burke, in his teen years, read the annual corporate reports produced by his father’s Cap Cities and family friend Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway. His uncle was CEO at Johnson & Johnson. His aunt was a high-level executive at Avon. His best friend runs JPMorgan. Burke currently serves on the boards of JPMorgan and Berkshire-Hathaway, where Buffett acknowledges Burke is a candidate to replace him.
— When Comcast boss Brian Roberts’s perfectionist tendencies prevented him from releasing the company’s first digital set-top box, Burke intervened, pointing out that perfection is an unreasonable goal in technology and that improved iterations could be released later.
— Since Burke’s arrival, at least 20 high-level executives have departed or been pushed out the door.
— Burke likes “scrambling the jets,” which in his parlance means plowing more money into the production budget and leveraging the company’s varied promotional assets.
— Burke has plowed at least $100 million into new program development.
— Burke leaves the building each day with a stack of DVDs.