Last year, with his future as NBC entertainment president uncertain, Kevin Reilly faced a deafening chorus of speculation about whether he would stay at the network. But the only voice that mattered to him was then-NBC Universal chief Bob Wright's.
“Bob's support made a really big difference,” says Reilly, who recently signed a multi-year deal at NBC.
“During volatile times,” he continues, “there are lots of opinions floating around, leading to lots of vulnerabilities that bring out pressure in an organization. And with my job, I'm on the leading edge of those things.”
In the end, Reilly says, “great leaders are not rash or reactionary.”
Reilly worked for Wright first in 1988, then returned to the network to lead the entertainment division in 2003.
He came to appreciate Wright's “unique and, at times, eccentric” approach to management. “In a conversation, he tries to synthesize many aspects of the business,” Reilly says. “That throws you off a bit. You can be having a very focused [discussion] on a specific topic, but Bob veers off and comes up with questions that seem to be out of left field.”
For instance, during talks about a particular show, Wright might bounce among topics like company and human dynamics, international economics, and profit and loss.
“Sometimes, we'd be two or three beats into a conversation before I'd say, 'Ah ha! Now I finally realize what he is talking about,'” says Reilly, who describes Wright as a “master synthesizer” highly successful in setting the company's agenda.
Reilly recalls Wright's style around the upfronts, when the new schedules are being carved out by the programmers. “A great leader knows what he doesn't know. But he was involved in every one and gave his two cents on every schedule,” he says. “I never once observed him trying to enforce a decision or put something on the air or pull it off. He had confidence in the people he hired and empowered them to do their jobs.”
Reilly recalls. “He never seemed to be on the attack. He always approached things with a gracious style. Anyone who has ever encountered him has found a soul with genuine humanity that is not lost in the shuffle—ever.”