As chairman and chief executive officer of NBC Universal, Bob Wright is one of the most visible and accomplished entertainment and media executives in the world.
As head of NBC Universal, Wright is at the helm of a global entertainment, information and news empire that includes television, movies and theme parks. NBC Universal owns diverse properties such as Universal Pictures, NBC Television Network, Spanish-language media company Telemundo, entertainment network Bravo, The SCI FI Channel, CNBC, Universal theme parks, and, with Microsoft, MSNBC, to name a few.
As a General Electric executive, Wright’s Sept. 1, 1986 appointment as president and chief executive officer of “the peacock network” was not without controversy. Critics were skeptical of the influence a buttoned-down GE “lifer” would have over the network. But Wright proved the doubters wrong—and has been a bold, forward-thinking media and entertainment industry executive. Financially, NBC earnings have increased nearly 300 percent, while revenue has more than doubled during his tenure.
Today, NBC is the most profitable television network in the country.
But, perhaps, Wright’s most important accomplishment is the co-founding, with his wife, Suzanne, of Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and funding to find answers to the causes of autism. The Wrights founded the organization after a grandson was born with autism.
“Autism Speaks is an enormous undertaking,” Wright says. “It’s a real challenge, and my wife and I are in this very deeply. I feel obligated. I feel I don’t have a choice but to be involved. It’s a cause I can’t walk away from.”
Wright said he was “directed” by his guidance counselors at Chaminade High School to attend Holy Cross. He was destined for a Catholic college education and chose Holy Cross over Georgetown.
“My father was an agnostic,” Wright says, “but he was not uncomfortable that I went to Catholic schools.”
Unbeknownst to the young college-bound Wright, his father signed him up for a premed program that was the most difficult Holy Cross had to offer. As part of his coursework, Wright was required to take Greek, Latin and all premed courses.
“It was clearly the school’s premier degree,” Wright says. “It was the best education you could get at Holy Cross. But I had no interest in being a doctor.”
Instead Wright untangled himself from that program and eventually majored in psychology with a minor in history.
For the past 15 years, Wright has been a Holy Cross Trustee—and is enthusiastic about the College, the faculty and the student body. He thinks the admittance of women to the school has had an enormously positive impact.
“Holy Cross has a much more balanced sensibility now,” Wright says. “The students are smart and highly motivated. They’re achievement-oriented. It’s as attractive a student body as you could find anywhere.”
What was the most valuable lesson you learned at Holy Cross?
I learned that I had the ability to modulate success. I was not applying myself in school, and I was not doing as well as I used to. I previously had been a diligent student and worked hard. By the end of my sophomore year I realized I had to apply myself if I wanted to go to graduate school. I realized I could be successful, but it was something I had to apply myself to.
Did you participate in any sports, clubs or activities at Holy Cross?
I ran for office in my first year. I had the good luck of being elected treasurer of the student body. That got me involved in a lot of activities. I later ran for class president but lost in a bitterly narrow election. I also joined the Purple Key.
With Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather retiring and the career of Peter Jennings uncertain, what do you see as the future of network news?
The Nightly News has a bright future, but we are going to have to work hard to gauge if it is responding to the audience that is available. They are doing a very good job of that now. I’m very optimistic. But if you lose track of what the audience wants or needs you will be in trouble. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is a great successor to Tom Brokaw and will be around a long time.
What is your favorite television show?
Seinfeld and Miami Vice are my favorites.
- Born: April 23, 1943, in Hempstead, N.Y.
- Family: Wife, Suzanne (Werner) Wright (married in 1967); children: Kate, Christopher and Maggie
- Additional Education: University of Virginia Law School, graduated 1968
- Residence Halls: Wheeler Hall, Beaven Hall, Hanselman Hall; was a prefect his last year, in Lehy Hall.
- Greatest Inspiration in Life: Earlier in life, attorney Edward Bennett Williams: “I had a picture of him hanging in my room. At that time he was the most talked about lawyer in the country and that is something I wanted to do. I finally met him when I was a Holy Cross Trustee.”
- Michael Reardon