Interview Date: Tuesday May 15, 2007
Interview Location: New York, NY
Interviewer: Steve Nelson
Collection: Hauser Collection
NELSON: Hello, I’m Steve Nelson. We’re here in the offices of Bob Wright, who recently retired as chairman and CEO of NBC Universal. That was two weeks ago. Today is May 15th, this is 30 Rockefeller and it’s a pleasure to be here, Bob. Bob, thanks very much for joining us today, taking the time to tell us essentially your career history for The Cable Center’s Video and Oral History Program. Rather than starting at the beginning, which you often do with these things, I really want to start at the end because right now is such a significant time of your life. As we’re taping this I believe you retired just two weeks ago.
WRIGHT: Yes, well, pretty much, pretty much so. That’s right.
NELSON: I’d just like to ask you what that’s like and how you’re feeling at this point about your rather lengthy career, which we will go back to by the way.
WRIGHT: Well, it’s easier to remember what happened yesterday than 35 years ago. This is a wonderful time in my life. I have enough commitments that I have to honor so that I don’t feel compelled to run out and do something that I probably will regret, and I’ve been given that advice from many people not to do that so I’m trying my best to honor that advice. I’ve worked on and off with large companies all my life, so it is refreshing to be moving away from that and there’s plenty of things you can do. There’s really a change going on in the communications business – or let’s put it this way, the entertainment business and the programming business which I’ve been associated with for such a long time is now changing to become more part of the communications business. It’s so much of the point to multi-point versus the point to point. That’s going to be another revolution that’s going to take place here. My friends in the cable industry and my old friends at Cox are very much out there in leadership in that. I was with Chuck Dolan this morning and so is Cablevision. They’ve gone from television to broadband, which is again point to point, and telephone, which is again point to point. So we have lots of people who have grown up in the business changing horses if you will, or adding different dimensions to their business and careers. I’ll be looking at all this and taking it in over the next couple years.
NELSON: More as an observer though now.
WRIGHT: Probably. I have a significant commitment to autism. My wife and I founded an organization called Autism Speaks, and I don’t have my pin on, it’s always on my jacket so I’m going to have to at some point come back with my pin on. That has become a very big part of our lives. I have a grandson who’s just about six years old with autism, and we have gone from the two of us to an organization now that has 132 full-time people and hundreds of volunteers and operates in 31 states and a couple of foreign countries. So it’s a big part of my life regardless of what I choose to do or not do after this, this is the biggest part of my week and day from now on.
NELSON: Well, just staying on that autism subject, it’s something that people are becoming much more aware of and if I read the statistics correctly seems to be coming much more prevalent.
WRIGHT: Well, that’s how we got into this. I couldn’t believe the numbers. I couldn’t believe the fact that autism is the most prevalent, significant childhood developmental disorder in the nation and that the awareness levels among educated people was very low. The medical and the scientific community were really not doing nearly what they should have been doing or could be doing to deal with this, and there are a lot of factors that I got into as to why that’s the case but the end result is it’s not being diagnosed correctly or efficiently; it’s not being treated; people that have autism don’t get insurance; they don’t get reimbursement; doctors don’t like to treat them because they don’t get reimbursed, it’s cash only; hospitals won’t accept them. So they’re really discriminated against in the medical and scientific community and this prevalence rate keeps growing and growing and there’s a lot of denial and people poking fingers – “How could this happen? How does this happen?” That’s why we decided to get into this. I said this is like a classic marketing problem, first of all, before we get to the science. We can’t have a situation like this that nobody knows about. How could that happen? I remember growing up on Long Island where polio was such a major issue. Polio, we look back, was 1 in 3,000 children and it was a national epidemic. The whole country rolled its sleeves up and in 17 years when FDR founded the March of Dimes until 1954 it was solved. Here we have a condition that is 1 in 94 boys. 1 in 94 boys! This was 1 in 3,000 children. We have tried and are trying very hard, and we’re an ad council sponsored entity now and we’ve driven awareness up quite a bit in the last 2 ½ years but that is a big part of getting fundraising and getting the science and getting the legislation. So it’s an all-consuming project but I think it’s going to be very rewarding.
NELSON: Now is your focus more on aiding people with autism or is it more future research oriented?
WRIGHT: Well, it’s all aspects of it. First of all, it’s building up awareness.
NELSON: The marketing you refer to.
WRIGHT: Marketing of autism to explain what it is and get people to understand it. You can’t get people to deal with it unless they’ll acknowledge it, until they understand it. The second piece is raising funds and the funds are for basic research, medical research, scientific research, also for family services. We formed a chapter model around the country, we will do tons of walks which is both awareness and fundraising, and also we’ll put money back into communities in the form of treatment centers and diagnostic centers and things of that nature. It’s all about lobbying state and local governments and Congress to get funding out there and to establish funding mechanisms. It’s about getting insurance, it’s about getting education for these children, and it’s about having a home policy. The good news of autism is you don’t die from it. The bad news is you become an adult, and in many cases you can’t live alone and your choice is institutionalization or you stay with your parents if your parents are still alive and if your parents are able to deal with you. So there’s a real fundamental problem with dealing with children that become adults in these areas and we’re going to get to that. So we’re going to cover all phases of it. Right now we’re trying to be the principal facilitation organization for people with autism representing them. The name of the organization is Autism Speaks because most of the children that have autism don’t speak, so we’re trying to speak for them and act in their stead. And we’ve rolled up organizations, we’ve merged with other parent-driven organizations, those that really had established themselves to try to make one entity in the United States that has power and force and can make some of these things happen.
NELSON: Well, it doesn’t sound to me like you’re about to retreat to the golf course in one of those very relaxing retirements because the challenge of this is huge.
WRIGHT: There’s time for both but this is something… the next few years are critical for us while I still have the energy and the ability to do this with my wife. We do things every day for this and she’s the commencement speaker at Long Island University’s West Chester campus – its graduate school – tonight, which I’m going up to Purchase for. She was invited because of that this year. It’s opened up a whole different world for us, quite frankly, and it’s a very positive world – a different world but a very positive one.
NELSON: Very different from the media business. Now you mentioned growing up on Long Island outside of New York City. When you were younger, you know, in your high school days, even grade school days, did you ever picture yourself being involved in the TV business? I’m sure you watched TV as we all did.
WRIGHT: Yeah, I always had a great fascination with television. I was an only child and so I had my choice of activities because I didn’t have to share with anybody else.
NELSON: You controlled the dial!
WRIGHT: That’s right. My mother was a teacher for 35 years and my father was a contractor. I was always fascinated with television. My father was very big on electronics and bringing new things to the home. So we had the first round Zenith television in the apartment house that I grew up in. Nobody had this. It was a 16-inch round Zenith. Zenith pioneered a lot of things that never caught on. The two things they did pioneer was a round screen – that didn’t seem to take off – the other one they pioneered was remote control. Later on, when I was older and I lived up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1973, I went down to New York and I went down to Franklin Square, Long Island to an electronics store, bought the biggest television they had in the store…
NELSON: Which was?
WRIGHT: It was a Zenith with a big kind of futuristic design around it and it was all cherry wood on a platform, and it was probably about a 28-inch screen or something like that.
NELSON: That was big!
WRIGHT: I carted it all the way back to Pittsfield, Massachusetts and it had a space command remote control where you clicked, it wasn’t wired. They had some earlier version to wire. I was the only person with it in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at that time and I hooked up to cable. It was Time Warner Cable. It was Warner Brothers Cable, actually. And I hooked up to it, and HBO then was a service where they actually sent around the tapes to the headends and we had HBO then. That was my… I had a whole operation set up with remote control and the big screen and stuff in 1973.
NELSON: With the polka programming.
WRIGHT: Channels brought in, that was the only cable channel that was really exclusively cable. There was local origination but that was it.
NELSON: Back on Long Island as a youngster, what were your favorite shows?
WRIGHT: Well, they were the shows that were on that kids might watch – Treasury Men in Action, Flash Gordon, Superman, there were a lot of detective shows on. Even at that time Gunsmoke was on, that was the beginning of it. Those kinds of shows, and Jackie Gleason, I Love Lucy was on, Red Skelton was on, all those great big variety… Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, the really big variety shows were very popular, and the game shows.
NELSON: You mentioned Gunsmoke – that still holds the record, I believe, at 20 years is the longest running TV drama.
WRIGHT: Dick Wolf is trying to hold on. He’s got 18 years in with Law and Order.
NELSON: Well, they just announced that he still has a shot at the record.
WRIGHT: He still has a shot, yeah.
NELSON: But in a way, you are a long running hit in the TV business, 21 years, so you topped Gunsmoke in that regard by a year. What do you account for your longevity? Is there a bit of sort of the Matt Dillon in you? As people may remember who saw that show, he was a very straight talking guy, very honorable guy, somebody you could really count on in a pinch. Is there a bit of Matt Dillon in you?
WRIGHT: Well, I think it’s more of a bit of there are positives and negatives about big corporations and one of the positives is that you know there’s an institutional history, you know the business is still going to be there. So I didn’t focus on really long-term objectives. I focused on things that I could do or get done in a relatively moderate term like a two-year period or a three-year period. I never considered five years out as an objective, or another ten years. So I just kept doing things knowing that there was a large business around us that would support performance. You had to deal with the politics of a big company, you had to deal with the shareholder issues and whatever, but that gave me a sense of I could be myself and I never felt particularly constrained. If I had good ideas and I could drive those ideas, I’ll get them funded and we just kept on going and kept on going. I had been in enough businesses before I came here and I’d been in a lot of developmental situations and the most promising of all the ones was my time at Cox.
NELSON: Now tell us about that. What year was that?
WRIGHT: It was 1980. In 1979, the Cox family saw the advent of big city franchising for cable. They had been in the cable television business in the ’70s – the bad period, if you will – which was really rough. There was no satellite and you were microwaving things around and you were taking tapes from town to town and syndicators were literally bringing tapes to headends. Satellite changed everything in 1976 but it took a while to have real impact and all of the sudden the issue of franchising and going into cities which was never the case – cable was not in cities, cable was in rural areas.
NELSON: It was just a reception service.
WRIGHT: It was a reception service and usually owned and financed by the local appliance dealer who would become in many cases the cable operator in that area because he was selling televisions and antennas, and that’s how they got into it. In 1979, the Cox family got concerned that the amount of money that it would take to… if you want a franchise you had to build it, and I think they became very concerned that this could bankrupt them and yet everybody wanted to be in the franchising business. So they got nervous that the whole… and they weren’t sure what that would do to their television business.
NELSON: Because they were in broadcast and cable.
WRIGHT: Right. They were in broadcast and cable and radio. Radio and television were so much bigger than cable. And they were worried about satellites, very concerned about the advent of satellite television. So they thought that maybe they should sell the whole thing and because they wanted a tax advantaged transaction, they had to sell it to somebody very big that wouldn’t have any attribution. They were in the newspaper business, too, and they were grandfathered in that. That was another problem. So, anyway, only a few companies in the United States were big enough to actually do this transaction with them. Ironically it was GE and the oil companies. Well, oil companies, if you remember in the ’70s because they had their ups and downs, they diversified a lot, too. I’ll come back to that in a minute with Getty. Getty owned ESPN. You think, how did that happen? So they approached GE and GE agreed to buy the company. GE was in the cable television business at the time, had been from the beginning; was in the broadcasting business and had been from the very beginning of broadcasting. The two oldest radio stations in the country were owned by GE and Westinghouse. One started in Albany, the other started in Pittsburgh and television was the same way. So GE thought that it would combine its television operations with Cox and its radio operations – GE was still in the radio business – and with cable, it would combine the cable and GE was able to finance the building of these things. That was the idea. So I raised my hand in 1979 and I said, “If you guys are going to do this,” and Jack Welch was the one who was then in charge with that part of GE and I had worked for him, that’s how I’d come to Pittsfield, so I called them up and they said that GE was going to work out a management team but it would not be a GE management team, it would have to be decided by the Cox family during the period before the acquisition was approved by regulatory agencies, which turned out to be a nightmare. So a long story short, I volunteered to put my name in it and I became the GE candidate, if you will, to go down there and to do this, and the Cox family had their own candidate. So we kind of squared off and their candidate was a guy by the name of Schwartz, and me. They elected to split the results, that Bill Schwartz would take charge of the broadcasting portion of the company and I would take charge of the cable television piece, but we would both be executive vice-presidents of the company. So we would spend time on each but we would both have those unique pieces.
NELSON: Now did Schwartz come from within Cox?
WRIGHT: He was the general manager of KTVU, Cox’s very, very successful independent television station in Oakland, California, and he had been in the television business, came out of it from the sales side and was a very well-known executive. So I had to resign from GE to do that because that was all part of this very formal regulatory structure here and I went down to Cox and became the head of Cox Cable. I stayed with Cox for 3 ½ years.
NELSON: But now Cox was not – from what you’re saying – was not acquired by GE.
WRIGHT: Well, what happened is the regulatory thing was very difficult and then pretty soon it dragged on and dragged on and cable became so hot that the price that Cox had negotiated with GE they felt was way below market, and since this had dragged on through no fault of Cox’s, and no fault of anybody really, that they didn’t feel comfortable in that price. They wanted GE to pay a much higher price, and I’ll tell you what the numbers were, you’ll die when you hear the numbers, but the agreement was 400 million dollars. That was the price.
NELSON: What did you get for that?
WRIGHT: For everything. All of the things that we just talked about.
NELSON: How many subscribers did they have at the time? Cox?
WRIGHT: The cable side had probably about 100,000 subscribers but they were starting to get franchises in lots of places. They wanted 6 (600 million).
NELSON: But the deal was originally at 4 (400 million)?
WRIGHT: 4 (400 million), right. But it was two years later and they wanted 6 (600 million). There was an article in every paper every day what a hot business this was and everything. So Jack was running for office himself at GE and he thought that it was kind of like being blackmailed into it. The reality was that it was cheap at twice that. So GE didn’t want to pay the 6 (600 million) and so the transaction was terminated and Cox ended up staying with the properties and I ended up staying with Cox because I really fell in love with the business. To me it was the most significant business opportunity that I had had and I’d had some pretty good ones up ’til then.
NELSON: So you moved to Atlanta, I presume, at that point, which was a big change, being essentially from New York so far in all your career moves.
WRIGHT: Yeah, but when I was with GE, I had had the advantage or the opportunity… I traveled all over the world and I traveled a lot in the United States because we were in the chemicals and plastics businesses and your customers and users like Detroit and automotives, they were all to molders, custom molders, and the custom molders were everywhere. They could be anywhere. We had plants in Indiana, we had plants in Mississippi and places like that. So I had a pretty good traveling education of the United States and outside the United States as well. So I was comfortable with the notion of being in lots of different cities and whatnot, and this whole idea of going into franchising… a kid that grew up in New York… One of the things that I determined earlier, I didn’t want to stay in New York. It wasn’t because I didn’t like it but I wanted other experiences. I went to school in Massachusetts, in Worcester, Massachusetts and I went to Charlottesville, Virginia. That was me fighting my mother who wanted me to come back to Columbia where she had gone to school. So I liked that being in different places program. So the idea of… my wife wasn’t so keen on it I think, she was very tolerant of it. But I would get up on a Sunday night and travel with Cox. I would travel all week.
NELSON: For the franchising activities?
WRIGHT: Yeah, franchising was so time-consuming.
NELSON: That was everything in the business at that time.
WRIGHT: Going from city to city to city, and then I’d come back and I’d maybe have a few days in Atlanta but I’d go out again on the road. But I was always very comfortable with that and I met a tremendous number of people from the cable industry, some people are still around, most people have retired or whatever, but a lot of them I would meet literally in combat, city by city.
NELSON: Fighting for those franchises.
WRIGHT: Right, right. Gus Hauser, I saw Gus Hauser more times than he and I care to remember. I still see Gus and Rita all the time today.
NELSON: Now did you beat him in some of those deals?
WRIGHT: Yes, I did, but he beat us in a couple of big ones. He got Dallas where I thought we had a very good shot. We beat him in Omaha, we beat him in Tucson. He was not as active as I remember in New Orleans. We had a real big sweep down in New Orleans. That was a long-fought battle. But there were just some great people out there from different backgrounds. You had people like Ted Turner doing his thing on the programming side. Everything was very original, very upbeat and people were aggressive. John Malone was one of the earlier people I met. Ralph Roberts, Chuck Dolan was one of the very first people I got involved with, Bill Daniels, some of the real pioneers in the business.
NELSON: Living in Atlanta, did you get to know Ted at all at that point?
WRIGHT: I did. I got to know Ted as well as you can get to know Ted. He’s just a very idiosyncratic guy. He’s just so unique. He called me up one time… I met him at an NCTA meeting. I got on the board of the NCTA very early and met everybody. It was very small; there were like 13 members. But I remember one day, Ted was calling up… We were Ted’s first company to sign up for CNN.
NELSON: The very first? Was it just because you were local?
WRIGHT: Yeah, we were down the street. He would call me up and tell me all these wonderful things that they were doing. I remember he called me over to the construction site. He was just a lunatic. He was going to build this out and he was walking around with these blueprints – I don’t know, he had them upside down, inside out, he was going to build this, that and the other thing. It was just outrageous, absolutely outrageous, but if he wasn’t that way he would have never got this done because he needed so much financing and he had to raise money and he needed a lot of support from cable operators and he got that. We actually talked about having Cox own 50% of CNN.
NELSON: What happened with that?
WRIGHT: That was TBS, actually, the whole company. You know, it’s funny – we got down to it and I had all the material on it and everything and it was a close case because it was in so negative debt. You’re buying into a losing position, which no company wants to buy into something that’s losing a lot of money and looks like it’s going to lose a lot more, but that’s how great investments come about. So we got down to the wire on this one and the day of the board meeting comes, maybe it was the night before, I got a call from Ted and I was going to represent him. He was going to come in later on and talk to them but I was going to represent him, and he said, “So what do you think?” And I said, “You know, I don’t know, Ted. I don’t know if this is going to work with you.” And he said, “I don’t know either. I can’t be what I’m not.” I said, “You’ve got to come to the board and you’re going to have to be part of the board. The board’s very small; it’s a handful of people.” He said, “I don’t know. I don’t think they’re going to like me. I think they’re going to hate me.” (LAUGHTER) And he said, “I can’t do anything about that.” So I said, “Maybe we don’t do that.” So I came to the board and I told them that I was about to do this but I decided not to and they said, “Oh, thank God you didn’t ask us. We wouldn’t want to say no.” But they were willing to be convinced but Ted, he knew that that probably wouldn’t work. He wanted to have complete control and have us own 50% and that’s a tough angle.
NELSON: Right, right. So in the course of your time at Cox, obviously you didn’t get into programming there but how about in terms of your subscriber base?
WRIGHT: Oh, we did get into programming!
NELSON: What kind of programming?
WRIGHT: Well, CNN – we spent a lot of time on that conversation.
NELSON: Well, in terms of ownership.
WRIGHT: Yeah, well, we were going to own half of it, that was the idea. Early on, Bill Schwartz called me up one day and he said – I was meeting broadcasters, too, along the way – and he said, “I was up in New York and the ABC guys, this fellow by the name of Granath, Herb Granath, is sort of a business development guy and Fred Pierce is the president and they want to get into this sports programming business, ESPN.” I said, “What’s the deal?” He said, “Well, the deal is that Getty owns it.” How did Getty get in? It’s a long story but they ended up with it and they want out, and it’s losing a lot of money and ABC says they want to know if we’ll come in for maybe 20% and we could increase it but they want to run it. So having started with that proposition we did a bunch of homework and then we went up to New York and we spent time with the… I had like three meetings up in New York with Bill Schwartz, myself and our business development guys and ABC and trying to see if we could actually put this together. And we did, we came up with a proposal and I remember we went out to – this was part of the due diligence – Roone Arledge was going to provide a tremendous amount of help on this. I was never convinced that Roone Arledge was going to do this, but that was part of it. So we went out to Las Vegas and there was some kind of a broadcasting event going on and we’re standing out in the front of this hotel waiting for Roone Arledge to come in, he comes up with a whole bunch of limousines and it was almost like it was a Hollywood script, Roone Arledge comes out and sure enough he has a cape on. It was perfect, you know? So I’m there with Schwartz and Herb Granath is there with me and he comes over and on cue Herb grabs Roone and says something, “Here they are. You’ve got to say something.” And he said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, you guys are doing this thing with ESPN. I think that’s terrific.” And I said, “So what do you think? Do you think it has a chance?” He said, “Oh, I don’t know.” (LAUGHTER) I said, “You don’t know?!” He said, “Are we going to put a lot of time on this? I’m really busy. I’ll do the best I can,” but it was like he had no interest in this whatsoever, which later on, I think, proved to be pretty accurate. So that was like, we’re on our own.
NELSON: Okay, now that we’ve changed the tape let’s get back to the ESPN deal. We’ve gone from Las Vegas to Cedar Rapids.
WRIGHT: During this time this is going on we’re trying to do due diligence to figure out what it would take to get this thing profitable or whatever, and I remember one day I was in Cedar Rapids in a hotel room waiting to go appear before some city commission and I was sitting in the hotel room watching ESPN at that time televising the NCAA finals in tennis, men’s tennis. I’m saying to myself, this is pretty good. I’ve never seen the NCAA finals in tennis and there would have been no place to go to see it that was live. It was at the University of Georgia – I remember this like it was yesterday, that’s where the finals were – and I said this is really terrific. Why wouldn’t this work? Why wouldn’t this work? We went back and we did a bunch of models and everything and the long and the short of it is that in the end we were all concerned that the amount of money that we would have to put in – we couldn’t actually determine how much it would take – but we would be, and this is funny when you look at Hearst, we would end up being somewhere between a 20 and a 40 percent shareholder but we could never have control so we would always be a minority shareholder and we couldn’t pin down exactly how much we’d have to lose before we’d get to the status, so as a company we passed on it. It was understandable; I thought the family gave us great support. We were also investing in building… they were saying, “Jeez, you guys are building cable things and that’s costing us a zillion dollars.”
NELSON: Which was their concern in the first place.
WRIGHT: Right! Now you’re back, you want to buy programming. So we didn’t do that one. Of course Hearst has owned that 20% and it’s probably one of the most valuable assets they have in the entire company. Isn’t that the ironic part? But I got involved with lots of other things and some of them were after I left Cox because the breakup of the Turner empire occurred after I had left and his financials caved pretty much and the cable companies had the upper hand there, and Time, Inc. in particular. I remember Nick Nicholas was sort of like the trustee in bankruptcy, and it was right over here on 6th Avenue where the Time, Inc. offices were that they actually had these long meetings and Ted was so upset because they were sort of cutting up his body in there, deciding who was going to get what and everything. Time, Inc. really got control of it and Ted kept it but they had lots of rights which eventually they exercised in 1995 by buying the package back from him. Jerry Levin was involved in it at that time and Nicholas was the CEO at the time. Ted should get a lot of credit for what he started; he just was over-extended, but he was over-extended for a guy who ended up with billions of dollars so you can hardly feel sorry for him. But he was quite a character and quite a figure. Kay Koplovitz was the person running USA at that time in the early ’80s and that was a marvelous service modeled after network television, trying to do the same things. It was the only one that had news, sports and entertainment on it. ABC started a competitive service to Turner. The ABC/Westinghouse news network was made of up broadcast stations and was an excellent model. Herb Granath was involved in that, but Turner just out-maneuvered them. He went and pleaded with every cable operator to put CNN on ahead of the Westinghouse/ABC news venture…
NELSON: And obviously prevailed.
WRIGHT: …and it didn’t make it. They didn’t want to spend any more money, they were losing a lot of money and he was winning a lot of… he had the support of the cable industry and the broadcasters or the group that was behind that didn’t want to put up that much money after the initial losses. They took some pretty good losses.
NELSON: Let me get back to you, particularly from a programming standpoint. You mentioned being in the hotel room in Cedar Rapids looking at ESPN and thinking to yourself, well, gee, why doesn’t this work? Later, of course, and not that much later but when you came to NBC you really came in there where NBC was completely riding high. Some of the programs you had on-air, if I can remember – these are only alphabetical – A-Team, Cosby…
WRIGHT: Miami Vice.
NELSON: Cheers, Miami Vice, St. Elsewhere…
WRIGHT: Family Ties.
NELSON: Family Ties, Hill Street Blues. It’s incredible from that point of view today to think that one network – and a lot more (shows) by the way – could have all that a one time. So you come in there, this is after GE takes over RCA…
WRIGHT: Right, right.
NELSON: Now you’re sitting on top of this. How did you feel at that point suddenly having all these incredible programming assets that you’re responsible for?
WRIGHT: Well, I thought it was wonderful. We had looked at CBS a year earlier. I was the head of GE Capital in the interim period, and we had looked at CBS a year earlier when they weren’t technically for sale, but they were for sale. Then Larry Tisch came in and basically was the white knight that took over CBS, and so we had looked at CBS and RCA and NBC, and I was the one that had that experience. I was the one with the most recent experience in GE because I’d been in the cable business and down in the broadcasting business, I’d seen the satellite programs develop and we were, at Cox because we were a hot company and also because we had the largest cable system in the United States in San Diego at the time, every new programming service wanted to be on San Diego because it was the most efficient place to test ideas out. So we were all quite involved with programming, cable programming, and I had been involved with Chuck Dolan and Ralph Roberts in the creation of Bravo and actually… the creation of Bravo, the launching of… where Christie Hefner was…
WRIGHT: … head of Playboy Channel.
NELSON: Which Dolan was involved in, right.
WRIGHT: And we had an action/adventure channel and we had American Movie Classics. We owned all that. I was Chuck’s partner 27 years ago. So when I came to NBC I said, “We have got to get into the cable business. You can’t be a programmer just in broadcasting.” They had gone through a really rough period, very, very difficult, and they were finally enjoying some well-deserved success. I was not what they wanted to do.
NELSON: You’re saying you’re preaching cable at a time when NBC is at the height of its success as a broadcaster.
WRIGHT: Right, and I never had this broadcaster/cable war mentality. This was something that was developed in the 1970s primarily, the late ’60s and the 1970s, and if you’d been in it you had to take a side and you never left your side. You had a white hat or a black hat. It was a southern fight. It was the Hatfields and the McCoys. So I came into it without a predisposition to that war.
NELSON: And you were in both sides at Cox, both the broadcast and the cable sides.
WRIGHT: Yeah, I was on both sides at Cox, but even having said that I didn’t come with a view that it was all cable and no broadcasting. So I had that view that you had to be… I thought cable had tremendous potential and during my period with Cox I met all the powers to be in the business. I met the Bresnans and all the people that really built the business up from scratch, and the new people coming in and the people that were going out, so I was pretty well acquainted with all that, and they were a great group of people. But the broadcasters and the cable guys, when you got on an issue that involved one or the other it was like they couldn’t talk. They got so upset. Still to this day there’s a lot of that. It had no place in my head whatsoever. I thought it was just silly. But it was not silly by other people’s standards, especially people in the 1960s and the 1970s who felt they’d been really discriminated against.
NELSON: The cable people did?
WRIGHT: Yeah, they had laws worked against them, the politicians were beholden to the broadcast companies, the cable people… When I came along in the cable business, they were changing all that. Cable was picking up enormous political strength and broadcasting wasn’t as careful as they should have been to retain what they had. But cable was getting much, much stronger. Even when I left Cox in 1983, they had gained considerable political clout – state, locally, nationally, whatever. They were much closer in parity than they ever acknowledged, which was a good thing. But anyway, so I got to NBC and they only were talking about broadcasting and I’m going, “What, are you kidding me? We’ve got to go here, too.” I’d say, “What does that show cost? We could make 25 shows, we could put a network together for that on cable.” So there was a lot of that discussion and Tom Rogers came in here just after I did and I knew Tom when he was the legislative assistant to a Senator from Colorado, Tim Wirth, who was the father of the cable television act and he was heavily lobbied by the cable companies that were headquartered in Denver. He was very good on his feet and very good at it, so he became the point person for getting us into cable and he knew all the people in the business because they’d come to his committee. So we were sort of out here doing this separate business and I was meeting with people here at NBC tirelessly on investing in cable properties, developing them and other things for several years. I did that for a long time.
NELSON: So what was your first break-through? Was that CNBC? You got involved with Rainbow as a 50% owner. I guess that goes back to your relationship with Chuck.
WRIGHT: When I left, Cox sold its interests back to Chuck and so did Ralph Roberts. So Chuck owned 100% of American Movie Classics – Playboy had gone outside, he had a connection with it but it wasn’t the same – American Movie Classics, Bravo and he had a sports channel, he had Sports Channel USA, which is now Fox Sports, and he had the New York sports channels that he had developed with the Mets and had the Rangers and the Knicks and so forth all in there. He wanted to do that nationally. So the long and the short of it is, the first thing I did is we formed a partnership with Dolan and we bought half of everything he had, every one of his program services, and we also pledged to each other that the right to… you had to bring any service that either one of us developed to the other to put into the venture unless the other party didn’t want it in which case you had the option of doing it with somebody else or doing it yourself. That was the first thing we did. The second thing we did was we tried to see what we could do with A&E. We were a partner in A&E, so we tried to beef up our investment to support the management to expand A&E, and this is before The History Channel or anything, and that was very helpful. We got them money and got that much more positive. We got into the financial news service, and it was a very awkward, difficult way to get there. John Malone was the guy that helped us get into that particular business because he had a satellite company that had a satellite service. We needed a satellite; they were very hard to come by at that point in time. We wanted to get FNN (Financial News Network) and it was a long, bitter courtship. We finally bought them when they were in bankruptcy. They could have sold it to us legitimately two years earlier for a lot more money than we bought it out of bankruptcy.
NELSON: But you had started at this point, by the time you bought it you’d started CNBC.
NELSON: At NBC was that your first pure cable startup? You had a lot of these investments and joint ventures with Chuck.
WRIGHT: This one was definitely ours.
NELSON: Why that? Why did you pick that area?
WRIGHT: Well, we went through… everything is about opportunity, we went through lots of other places and we either couldn’t get the deal we wanted, there were too many other partners in it, or there was no way to do it with some of them. We had a chance to buy MTV Networks when that was being liquidated. That was in a liquidation period before Sumner Redstone came along and we had a chance to buy that, and it was 400 million dollars for the whole kit and caboodle.
NELSON: Not a bad deal.
WRIGHT: Not a bad deal.
NELSON: But that didn’t happen, obviously.
WRIGHT: That didn’t happen. So this was one that we actually could be in control of. We had a news organization, we were in the news business, it was something we should have been able to do and we knew we could start on a new slate. The ironic part about it is Chuck and I were partners in this thing and we were doing this at a time where the cable industry people were in some difficulty. Rates were very high, the economy was not doing as well, it was at the tail end… By 1990 – we launched in ’89 with Chuck as a full 50% partner and about two years later we were scrambling, we were losing money, and Chuck’s people said we can’t support all these sports channels and so forth, and eventually we got out of some of the sports channels, gave our interest back to him, and he got out of CNBC and gave his interest back to us because each of us was running out of money to support all these things. And by the way, Rupert was involved in some of these discussions, too, at exactly the same time.
NELSON: And around the sports stuff, I assume.
WRIGHT: We spent most of our time with him on satellite discussions and we actually formed a partnership with Rupert, myself and Dolan to launch DirecTV before DirecTV with Hughes, with four companies. We were all under financial stress. This was in like 1991, ’92, and we actually had a launch. We went to the Pierre Hotel, we had a big thing, we all took out napkins and we showed everybody how big the satellite dishes were and we announced the start of the DirecTV, the direct television to the home business. Then each one of us for our own different reasons had to get out of that.
NELSON: Just because of financial constraints? There’s only so much you can do.
WRIGHT: We were all constrained. It was a very tough economic period; we were all constrained.
NELSON: How long did it take you to get CNBC to the point where that was profitable? Now you’re 100% into it.
WRIGHT: It was about four years and it was just barely profitable but you knew we were on a good track. We had great support though from the cable industry. Because I was there I understood what it took to get that up, how to market that, how to get that in and we made longer term deals. My friends at Cox were very supportive and they became one of our charter members. Charter members got long term affiliations with fixed fees, no increases and they also got help in marketing. They got marketing dollars in their respective markets to launch it and use for other things. The investments they made with us – all the people that were our charter people all did very well and helped us. That got us to 30 million homes. When we eventually bought FNN, FNN had like 30 million, a lot of them were part-time.
NELSON: And were they non-duplicated from CNBC? There must have been some overlap there.
WRIGHT: Yeah, there was overlap but the biggest problem was a lot of them were just part-time. It was nighttime, not daytime, or daytime and not nighttime. So when you shoved all that together, we went basically over 40 million and at that time in the business in the first part of the 1990s, 40 million was the success point. If you could get to 40 million with subscriber fees you were going to make it. I told all of our people, every channel we got into I said, “The goal is to get to 40 million as fast as you can because that’s where the breakpoint will be and those people that don’t get there are going to have a different environment than if you do.” That number started to get higher as time went on, but it was basically that’s what our goals were. Later on we got involved with MSNBC when we got involved with Microsoft.
NELSON: Tell me about that because of your dealings with Microsoft. This was not your typical cable partner as the Dolans and the Malones and Turners and those guys were.
WRIGHT: Well, we saw Microsoft… we were paying attention. Microsoft was becoming richer and richer and getting a lot of notoriety by the mid-90s and the whole idea of what the internet could be was an important thing. We certainly saw it as tremendous ability to control data and information flow. We saw it as kind of a communications business and they expressed some interest in wanting to get into our business. They weren’t sure what that meant. If you remember, at that point in time they actually invested a lot of money in Comcast and we were saying to ourselves, “My God, if they’re going to invest in cable companies to do programming, why not invest in a programming company to do programming.” So Rogers and I spent a lot of time with their business development people and it was a really hectic period and by Christmas of 1995 we were ready to announce a formation of a partnership which had a book about this thick.
NELSON: Was it hard dealing with them?
WRIGHT: Yes, it was, it was.
NELSON: But did they really understand the programming business?
WRIGHT: They didn’t. They didn’t and we didn’t. Neither one of us were really completely comfortable with the other’s business plan and as a result you have a very difficult negotiation. In a negotiation of that type, everybody gets to keep everything in. All the things that should have been negotiated out end up being in the agreement so it’s like a roadmap to nowhere. You couldn’t get rid of them because nobody knew exactly what they were giving up versus the other guy. That became a very big issue, and by the way, we had launched America’s Talking a year earlier. I hired Roger Ailes to come to run CNBC in 1993 and he came into my office and said, “I think it’s a good time to get into the broadcasting business.” I said, “I don’t know if it’s such a great time to get into the broadcasting business, but it’s a good time to get into the cable television business and if you really want to do something,” because he really like programming, “if you really want to do that, why don’t you come with me and run CNBC?” He didn’t have any particular interest in business news but he did have interest in programming and he was marvelous. He got in there and got everybody pumped up and everything, but the idea was we were going to launch a second channel and we did. It was called America’s Talking. America’s Talking is Fox News today and it was based upon the concept of letting people have a lot of emotional content on the air all the time and we would tell heroic stories about what people are doing and not doing. A lot of Queen for a Day, a show that was very popular even 20 years earlier, there was a lot of small victories and small people around the country, and that’s how Chris Matthews came to NBC.
NELSON: So this is all about everyday people?
WRIGHT: Yeah, it’s all about everyday people. It had news elements and it’s talk shows but about everyday people. When we did the deal with Microsoft, Andy Lack got responsibility for creating MSNBC, the news channel, and Roger was very upset about that because he wanted to do it. He felt that we were converting America’s Talking to MSNBC, so he was very upset about that and that’s why he left. He left and basically took America’s Talking ideas and concepts and a lot of the people to Fox, and that became Fox News. I still have jackets with America’s Talking on it and so forth. We had at that time about 30 million subscribers for America’s Talking and that became MSNBC.
NELSON: Let’s talk about what I think is considered the granddaddy of your deals and that was the Vivendi/Universal, which was something everybody was chasing and you wound up with it.
WRIGHT: Before that, just before that, we redid our arrangement with Cablevision and in the process we purchased Bravo from Cablevision.
NELSON: Right, and that’s part of just disentangling that whole…?
WRIGHT: Yes, but it was something we wanted to do and I think we’ve done a very good job turning Bravo into a very hot, wonderful service.
NELSON: But why Bravo? What was it about Bravo that you valued it?
WRIGHT: It was because it had a broad franchise. It was a broad entertainment vehicle. The definition of what a service is is an important one in the cable world or the satellite world because you can’t veer too much with or without permission from the operators, and this had a broad entertainment… We needed more entertainment. We had two news services and we didn’t have an entertainment service. So this was going to be our entertainment service and that all occurred before we got involved with Universal.
NELSON: And how did that come about?
WRIGHT: The Universal came about because the French were looking for an exit. They had bought a real turkey there and Jean-Marie Messier was the CEO and a very brilliant guy but he bought everything in sight and he loaded up so much debt that it just choked. He was ousted by his own board and Jean-Rene Fourtou became the chairman and the board’s objective was to unload the property because they were a French company and they had all this stuff in the United States and they didn’t feel comfortable with that at all and they had all this debt that they had to deal with. So we entered the bidding, if you will. We were the only ones… we took a totally different tactic, we said, “We don’t want to buy you. We’ll merge, we’ll give you a percent of our company, we’ll give you some cash up front, and then you can put it to us for the piece later on. It should be worth a lot more than doing this today.” So that was a long, long program but eventually… we had great support from GE on that and Jean-Rene took the gamble with us on it. That was the most important thing we have done. Then with that we got two major entertainment services, USA and Sci-Fi to complement our Bravo. So now we had three major entertainment things and two really good news and information pieces, and CNBC at that time was very successful.
NELSON: Now how about Telemundo? Where’d that come into it?
WRIGHT: Telemundo came in before that, too. That came in in 2001 and I had looked at Telemundo several times. I wish I had bought it under the earlier… It had two different ownership groups, but you know you can only do it when they come around. I was worried about broadcasting in general; the single revenue stream versus the much better model of cable with operator support and advertising, and Telemundo, we had large markets and we could see the Hispanic population was growing very rapidly, and it’s a very family-oriented population, and they were buyers of brand items, and they were staying in neighborhoods. Very, quite frankly, ideal advertising, and yet there wasn’t much going on. I thought that would be a great opportunity if we could figure out how to get the programming. So we thought we had a way to do that and subsequently we had to do it a different way, but that was 2001 and that was two years before we got involved with Universal.
NELSON: So this is starting to bring us up to the present where we started with your retirement.
WRIGHT: We also had Court TV, though, in the middle of that thing.
NELSON: That was another complicated one to unravel with the free portals.
WRIGHT: We were sort of forced out by Time, Inc., Time Warner at that time. We really had put a lot into that and we had created a lot of value for that one. John Malone was also our partner, with Dolan. When we were with Chuck and we were trying to get down and change our ownership, he came in, Liberty came in and bought half of the properties, and then Chuck owned a quarter of it and we owned a quarter of it, and so forth. So there was another evolution with John in there for a good period of time.
NELSON: Now, how about in just, since we’re getting toward the end here, just give us a sense of what led to your retiring? Business was still moving rapidly, there was still a lot of growth, cable was fulfilling all your expectations.
WRIGHT: We have a mandatory retirement age here at GE.
NELSON: Which is?
NELSON: But you hadn’t quite reached that, is that correct?
WRIGHT: No, but my position was that I would stay here but I would never retire as a CEO. We would name somebody else before that. You have to have a transition period here and it’s very unusual in GE for people to be senior managers in their 60s. There are hardly any. There aren’t any. IBM is that way, Proctor & Gamble, a lot of large corporations are like that. So the issue of finding the right successor, an issue with getting on with that was always hanging here. So this is maybe a few months earlier than I would have otherwise made the announcement but it’s not of any significance. It’s time. 21 years is a long time. It’s been a great run and I’m very happy about everything and I have no complaints whatsoever.
NELSON: Just very briefly, looking back on it all, is there just one thing out of all that that stands out where you would say, yeah, I’d like to be remembered for doing that, for doing that deal? Just in a nutshell what would that be?
WRIGHT: Well, the most significant deal we did was Universal. It was the best of all the ones, both economically and strategically and all. But they were all good. They all were very important pieces. Probably the most exciting piece of that whole thing was the tenth anniversary of CNBC in 1999 because CNBC was really successful at that point in time. That became just a very important part of NBC at the time. The event took place right here in New York and it was a big, elaborate evening and it was a lot of fun. All of us people that were there for that ten years had took part in it and you saw something come together from nothing. We also had a very wonderful celebration – broadcasting people had a dinner for me…
NELSON: I was going to ask you if there was a celebration for you, as well.
WRIGHT: Yeah, they did. This is the affiliates, now. These are not NBC. This is the NBC affiliates which are independent companies, and they gave Suzanne and I a wonderful gift. They gave us 2 million dollars of guaranteed air-time for Autism Speaks. Isn’t that nice?
NELSON: That is a thoughtful gift.
WRIGHT: Considering there’s always going to be friction between the network and the affiliate body, and I always enjoy the affiliates. There were times when there was a lot of friction, especially by cable, and I would say to them, “We have to grow. These are important parts. Your program is not going to fail on broadcast because I’m doing CNBC. That’s not going to impact you.” You have to learn to live and let live. That was part of the war, but those days were past and we had a wonderful closing event. I’m happy with what we’ve done here. I’m really happy to have been part of it. It’s what I like to do and we were able to put all of these pieces together and it’s a tremendous business.
NELSON: I can’t let you go without asking you about a few of your colleagues, notorious, famous colleagues in the cable business. Let’s just start with John Malone.
WRIGHT: Well, John Malone was inspiring when I first came into the business. I remember seeing him in sort of the alleyways of conferences generally involving financial analysts talking about the cable business, and people were all trying to get a handle on how do you invest in the cable business? What do you look for? And John was really explaining his entire theory of cash flow investing. And generally John is a libertarian, too. He does not like to pay taxes. It’s like against his religion. So cash flow investing was perfect for him because he would use the depreciation and the interest that came along with being in the cable business to offset any taxability for it.
NELSON: Right, right. He’s rather famous for it.
WRIGHT: At the time it was something that people understood from an accounting standpoint but it was not the way you rated businesses. It was not a way that an analyst could actually make a recommendation to buy a stock that was technically losing money, but losing money because they taking losses from the combined interest and the amortization and depreciation which was coming from all the construction that he was doing. So he educated a whole generation of analysts on how you can invest in a business that looks like it’s losing money when in fact it’s building tremendous value and not paying any taxes and getting maximum benefit out of interest deductions. I picked it right up. I thought it was a marvelous way to understand the business. I became like an apostle of that and we were able to convince business reporters and analysts that this is not a fad. You could build a big business on this basis.
NELSON: And how did you put that to use other than convincing reporters and analysts?
WRIGHT: I had to raise money, too, and I had to meet with business analysts and people from Business Week and Fortune and explain that we weren’t going to bankrupt the Cox family. There was some concern about that, and how much is this going to cost and my God, it’s going to weight them down, and so the cash flow aspect of how much a subscriber could generate in cash to offset these and what period of time, six and seven years out, that modeling became very, very important. John was also a… he loved complexity, so he was the first person who I saw in business who just… most people try to make things simple and John almost went the other way around. He just loved complexity almost for the sake of it because he could deal with it in his own mind, very smart man. So no transaction was too complex for him and there was a sort of oddity about how you get through that.
NELSON: But did that give him an edge in some of these deals where maybe everybody didn’t quite get it all?
WRIGHT: It gave him an edge in doing deals that looked undoable and he just waded into that sort of a thing. Any deal you did with John was going to be very complex but it would get done. As I said, he got us started with CBNC through a deal that was extremely complex. Chuck Dolan was just a unique individual, a true entrepreneur, a master of marketing, sales, programming, just could not be discouraged. Every task that was undoable he got into it. Much more like Rupert Murdoch, he used sports. Chuck never cared about sports particularly, but nobody’s invested more money with sports than he has, the same as Rupert Murdoch. But sports were a means to an end. It was a way to distribute programming – it was programming, and programming had subscribers and subscribers made cash, and whatever.
NELSON: And subscribers love sports.
WRIGHT: But Chuck also – I mean, he invented Bravo, he invented American Movie Classics, he invented the sports channel USA, he invented Sports Channel New York. Those were all his creations.
NELSON: And early on at HBO as well.
WRIGHT: And was the inventor of HBO. I should have put that in the beginning. Was the inventor of HBO. The idea of having entertainment programming put on tape and then travel around the country and people see it and so forth. He is the real pioneer. Ralph Roberts, and now Brian – I think Ralph’s just a superb businessman who had many, many other interests other than Comcast. Comcast turned out to be clearly his most successful but he is a superb businessman with the lowest voice, nicest approach and hard as nails. (LAUGHTER) Wonderful, and a lot of integrity. He introduced me to Brian one time in 1988 or so. I was at a cable television meeting and he said, “I want you to meet my son Brian. I’m going to bring Brian into the business. I’d like you to help him out. I’d like you to give him support. He has all my support and he’s going to run Comcast someday.” That was Brian.
NELSON: And of course it turned out to be a much larger Comcast than at the time.
WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. And his father’s still there and his father has his office adjacent to Brian. That’s a real wonderful family relationship. And Ted Turner, who was the irrepressible and is probably… defied gravity, fell down a few times when he was walking on water or walking on air, but I learned a lot from that. His drive, his absolute drive to get something done despite incredible odds was really quite something to see, participate with.
NELSON: Now let me ask you about one more businessman in the cable and broadcasting business – Bob Wright. What do you think characterized you? Because you were incredibly successful and the person that really bridged this broadcasting/cable chasm in the biggest way and took the most advantage of it because some of the broadcasters we know didn’t really capitalize on the opportunity. So what was it about Bob Wright? What were his great characteristics?
WRIGHT: I say this to people without… I really love television. I’ve loved television all my life. I loved it when I was at home; I loved it when I was at school; I spent much too much time watching television. I was sort of a minor expert in all things trivia about television. I liked sports; I liked entertainment; I liked news. I grew up with all of that. I was very comfortable with performances and performing and I had a lot of opinions about it. I never became a programmer but I never was uncomfortable being with people whose whole life was programming. I never felt the least bit out of touch with what they were doing. I never felt out of touch on the business side. I had been in enough businesses with significant positions where I was very comfortable. There wasn’t anything about a balance sheet or a statement or anything about planning or strategic… I learned from the best, so I had a great deal of comfort and I had lots of comfort with people. So I never felt like I was in a corner in any of these things. I always felt like I could just go from one to the other to the other. Building these businesses from scratch or assembling them or putting them together was something I really fundamentally enjoyed, and I liked the people that came with it. I liked the people that we acquired or merged with or hired or brought in, and the kinds of things they did – the writers, the directors, the producers. I wish my time wasn’t so short on the movie side because that’s the same kind of people. If you are comfortable with all those things, and I was and am, it makes it a lot easier to succeed. It just does. So I knew enough when to keep my mouth shut, when to apologize, when to apologize for something that I didn’t even do to help somebody else out who probably needed it without having any great trepidation about that.
NELSON: But were they always as comfortable with you because when you came into NBC you were perceived as “the suit” and here you had this incredible creative era going on there?
WRIGHT: Yeah, but they didn’t get that and that’s okay. I understood that, too. I had been now the CEO of three different businesses before I had come here, all with great skepticism. So 80% of that I expect, the last 20 I didn’t. So we got 80 out of the 100, not bad.
NELSON: That’s not so bad.
WRIGHT: But it never got me down. You had to kind of fight through it.
NELSON: So, one last question – I guess this would have been when you were in law school, 1967, there was a movie called The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman, which we all remember, and the great scene where he’s at I guess his parent’s party, one of his parent’s friends came over to him…
NELSON: Exactly. He said, “The future. One word. Plastics.” Now you did wind up in plastics but I guess in your case the one word turned out to be television.
WRIGHT: That plastics drove my career a lot because that was a general term he was using, when I went to that business it was a miracle product. It was Lexan, it was the unbreakable clear plastic you could put on windshields and racecars and glazing and all sorts of things. It was the product that propelled Jack Welch’s career, and many people. It was replacing other things, metals and all these sort of things. It was very exciting and that was a lot of what was in the mind of the writer, I’m sure, when they threw in plastics in the movie. Now it’s ironic that GE is in the process of selling that business. That business was a wonderful business but it’s got so tied up in the oil industry and if you’re not basic in feed stocks from oil, you really can’t be in that business or it’s very difficult to be in that business. So the entertainment business will go on forever.
NELSON: And you don’t need the oil to sustain it.
WRIGHT: You don’t need the oil, no.
NELSON: Any other last thoughts? Well, let me ask you because you just mentioned him. Jack Welch?
WRIGHT: Well, I do have one thing and I’ll come right back. The cable industry has been very resilient through political times and through economic times and through the normal things that any business goes through, but I think what they’ve been amazingly good at is we knew when I first went there in 1980 I hired two senior executives from AT&T Laboratories here in New Jersey and they convinced me – because we needed this for franchising purposes – they convinced me that you could have interactive banking, shopping and everything on cable. They also convinced me that we could do telephone on cable and that is what has… the recognition of those capabilities and the development of those capabilities over time is what’s made the cable business so successful because now a cable operator has a base business in video which covers a lot of the costs of this broadband business which is enormous, which also covers the cost of the telephone business which is potentially enormous, and all those things are happening. The triple-play arrangement, and they’re all in it, they’re all doing it. So they’ve almost migrated from… the cable business has always been less about television and more about communications and now it’s more obvious. It’s really about communications and it’s electronics communications, delivery, franchising areas, protection. So there’s been a marvelous maturity of taking advantage of the technology that surrounded the original cable programming.
NELSON: That goes back to you when you were young and fascination with electronics. So you were really right there with them in terms of cable’s…
WRIGHT: But all these people that I came into this business with have all, the successful ones have all migrated to these other technologies and all built around the same kind of core principles.
NELSON: So just that one I wanted to come back to, the one executive because he’s such a fascinating character in the history of business. Any insights?
WRIGHT: Well, Jack Welch was also a very dynamic figure. He had a lot of Ted Turner in him. He was a little more controlled than Ted. Maybe not a lot in his early days, but you had to be overwhelmingly… he taught me that you had to be overwhelmingly committed to take on something that has a lot of detractors. It’s not like you’re having to sell them but you have to be personally committed to it because if you start re-examining yourself and every imperfection of this idea, you’ll never win. So you can see it in political figures and whatnot. You just have to be overwhelmingly committed and Jack was always overwhelmingly committed. That gave him great strength and got him through some very difficult times and allowed him to become enormously successful.
NELSON: And how about Bob Wright? Committed?
WRIGHT: I’ve always felt that way. I’ve always felt like you have to be… and I’ve also been saying if it doesn’t work we’re getting out. We are going to cut our losses and move on because you can’t move on if you don’t cut your losses. You get stuck with your losses. Once I felt that I couldn’t add my support to something I learned you get away from it quickly. And I only wanted to have people doing things that were really energetically into it. Business is too hard to be given to people who are not that interested. It just doesn’t work no matter how good it is, it doesn’t work. So I look for passion.
NELSON: Okay, anything else you want to add?
WRIGHT: No, that’s plenty. And my wife. She was with me this whole trip. We would have never done all these things, we could not have done these things if she had not been completely committed to all of it which is an enormous amount. She was a very big part of my business career because you make all these moves, you’re meeting new people, you’re doing new things, and she was a real asset to me because she quickly could get into the flow of the business and she would understand enough of the business to see the dynamics of the people and where the energies were. So we both enjoyed the same success over the same period of time.
NELSON: And now she’s a driving force in Autism Speaks.
WRIGHT: Absolutely. She’s the one I have to worry about over-commitment. I have to help her not to over-commit.
NELSON: Well, thank you very much. It’s really been a pleasure to hear some of these stories and to have this opportunity. Thanks.
WRIGHT: Good, good. On behalf of Suzanne and myself, I thank you.