In Secret Meetings, Comcast Wooed GE and Won NBC

GE’s CEO Immelt held clandestine talks with Comcast’s Roberts and Burke in July to discuss sale.

Last Updated: December 3, 2009 @ 10:58 AM

The secret meeting was set for an early July afternoon in a condominium along the ninth hole of a golf course in Sun Valley, Idaho. Jeffrey R. Immelt, General Electric’s chief executive, arrived first, taking care to avoid being spotted by his own employee, Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, who was mingling with other executives nearby.

Ralph J. Roberts, the 89-year-old co-founder of the cable giant Comcast, and its chief operating officer, Steve Burke, arrived 15 minutes later.

The gathering, which had been brokered by James B. Lee Jr., a vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase, was set up for one purpose: Mr. Immelt, who had resisted the urge to sell NBC for years, was finally ready to sell.

The deal was a long time in the making and was filled with meetings at the Four Seasons hotel in Philadelphia, in New York City apartments and on helicopter rides. It also featured code names: GE was Green, NBC was Navy, Vivendi was Violet and Comcast was Crimson (because of the Harvard link – Burke and Immelt were classmates at Harvard Business School).

For nearly six months of back-and-forth talks, only a small cadre of GE and Comcast executives knew about the deal — nobody at NBC was ever told — and it had not leaked. TheWrap published news of the blockbuster deal on Sept. 30, several hours after the talks were disclosed to a tiny group of executives at NBC.

“I’m telling you to be prepared for this to leak,” GE CFO Keith Sherin had told Comcast’s CFO Michael Angelakis earlier that day.

Read more in the New York Times.