NBCU’s Zucker: ‘When Comcast Assumes Control, I Will Leave’

“Steve Burke made it clear that they wanted to move on at the close of the deal and I was completely comfortable with that”

NBC Universal president and chief executive officer Jeff Zucker announced his departure from the company in a memo to staff Friday morning. 

"When Comcast assumes control of NBC Universal, I will leave the company," Zucker wrote.

Zucker, who spent over 20 years at NBC Universal had been president and chief executive officer since February 2007.

Zucker's departure was widely expected within the industry, with NBC the fourth place network and especially after a disastrous mishandling of the network's late night shuffle between Conan O'Brian and Jay Leno last year that ended with O'Brian leaving NBC amid public recriminations. 

In a pre-exit interview in his newspaper of preference, the New York Times, Zucker said that his decision became clear after meeting with Comcast COO Steve Burke two weeks ago.

“We had both gotten to the same place,” Mr. Zucker told the Times. “He made it clear that they wanted to move on at the close of the deal and I was completely comfortable with that.”

In his memo to staff, Zucker said the choice to leave "has not been an easy or simple decision."

"I have spent my entire adult life here, more than 24 years. This is the only place I have ever worked," Zucker wrote. 

In a statement Comcast chairman-CEO Brian L. Roberts praised Zucker, saying: "Jeff Zucker has devoted his entire professional life to NBC, and he has led the company with integrity and purpose. The success of NBC Universal puts us in a wonderful position as we plan for our joint venture with GE," he said. "We wish Jeff well in his future endeavors."

An individual at NBCU told TheWrap that the timing of Zucker's departure was a shock to the everyone at the network and that none of the executives who directly report to him were notified prior to the memo's arrival in their inboxes.

Top West Coast executives got the call early Friday morning.

The individual said Comcast was hoping to make its own appointment in the top spot at NBC Universal. 

In the note announcing his departure, Zucker expressed pride in his work, despite his controversial reign.

"I am proud that they will inherit a company in very good shape, with almost every one of our divisions enjoying their best year ever. The current strength of the company is a tribute to every one of you and the terrific leadership team that is in place," Zucker wrote. 

Zucker tapped Jeff Gaspin to head NBCU's television entertainment division in July 2009. Since then, the network launched an ambitious slate of new scripted shows for this fall and early ratings results have been encouraging.  

Under Zucker, NBCU greatly expanded their cable operations at CNBC, MSNBC, USA and Bravo. The network also grew their digital operations including an ambitious local news project. 

Zucker will stay on at NBCU for the next few months to assist in the transition.  

Read the full memo announcing Zucker's departure below.

From: Jeff Zucker (NBC Universal)
Sent: Fri Sep 24 08:32:33 2010
Subject: Important Note from Jeff Zucker

Well, the time has come. This time, to tell you a little news about me.

When Comcast assumes control of NBC Universal, I will leave the company.

It has not been an easy or simple decision. I have spent my entire adult life here, more than 24 years. This is the only place I have ever worked. The only professional thing I have ever known. I met my wife here, enjoyed the birth of our four children in that time, worked in almost every division of the company. And forged relationships, both professional and personal, that will last a lifetime.

I remember, vividly, the first day I came to work here in August, 1986. I walked to work at 30 Rockefeller Plaza that day; it was humid and my shirt was soaking by the time I got there. In the years since, I have enjoyed nothing but sheer pleasure in having the names NBC and Universal on my business cards. Sure, there have been ups and downs in the last quarter century. But when I step back, and think about what we've been through, I feel nothing but pride and joy. It has been a great run and I've been incredibly fortunate.

Now, it is clear to me that this is the right decision for me and for the company. Comcast will be a great new steward, just as GE has been, and they deserve the chance to implement their own vision.

I am proud that they will inherit a company in very good shape, with almost every one of our divisions enjoying their best year ever. The current strength of the company is a tribute to every one of you and the terrific leadership team that is in place.

We'll talk more about the shape of the company in the months ahead. For now, I just wanted you to know my plans. I won't be going anywhere until the day the deal closes, and that day is still months away. There is plenty left to do, and we have an obligation to each other to maintain what we have already built. I will continue to approach everything we do with the long-term interest of the company in mind, just as I always have; I know no other way.

I don't yet know what my future will bring. I've spent the last 24 years thinking only about NBC Universal, and never contemplated anything else. I haven't even begun to think about the next chapter. But I wanted to be honest with you about this news as soon as I could.

I love NBC Universal. And always will. And I am grateful to each of you.

My most heartfelt thanks.
Jeff