When Bob Wright joined the TV network NBC/Universal 20 years ago, his favorite program to watch was The Cosby Show. A decade later, it became Seinfeld. Today, his favorites are The Office and 30 Rock. But Wright will no longer be watching the shows from his NBC suite, where he most recently served as vice chairman and director of the General Electric Co. Wright recently left behind the entertainment business to join
Erin Griffith, associate editor of PE Week affiliated publication Buyouts, caught up with Wright to ask him why he switched jobs, and if he would ever consider participating in a carve-out of GE.
Q: What prompted you to follow a 20-year career in TV with a job in buyouts?
I’ve been talking with Tom Lee [president and CEO of Lee Equity Partners] for some time about his new fund and his interest in reconstituting himself around a separate group of people with a new fund. It’s a really good spot for me, because I can play a role in helping to guide the businesses in areas I’m familiar with. Media is the area I’ve worked in most recently, but I’ve also done a lot of mergers and acquisitions to build NBC/Universal to what it is. I have a long history of doing deals and also an operations background, so I think my experience dovetails quite well with the work that we’re doing at Lee Equity.
Q: Will you focus solely on media?
In general, yes, but I’ll work in the financial services areas, as well. Before NBC/Universal, I was CEO of GE Capital and have been on that board for many years. Financial services and media are the two areas I’d spend more time on than others.
Q: So which side of the buyout business interests you more—deal-making or operations?
I want to be more heavily engaged in the deal-making piece. I’m not looking to take a senior operational role, but wouldn’t be averse to being on a board or actively following a company we have invested in. Then the goal becomes trying to make a business as good as it possibly can be. That’s part of our model at Lee Equity, providing operational support to a business, and I think I can add to our team’s capabilities in that area.
Q: How will your experience translate to your new role at Lee Equity?
We’re a young firm, so we’re not in the situation of having a lot of businesses on the waiting list to be brought public or sold. We’re looking at businesses at a time in the cycle where they aren’t as strong as they have been in the past, and that’s not a bad thing from our perspective. Many people are going to be looking at selling off parts of their businesses, so hopefully we can find things that have long-term potential at attractive prices.
Q: Speaking of divestitures, there’s a perpetual rumor that GE would divest NBC/Universal. Would it be a good target for a private equity carve-out?
Lee Equity would not be geared for that sort of thing. We’re geared toward more of the mid-market side of things.