One the three languages that Brandon Burgess is fluent in is French. No doubt that has served him well as NBC's executive vice president, business development, in conversations with the top executives at Vivendi as they seek to sell their entertainment assets. If NBC ends up with those assets, it will be another feather in Burgess's cap.
Burgess is NBC's big-deal guy. And he has had quite a streak lately.
Earlier this year, he negotiated the $1.25 billion deal to acquire Bravo, the artsy entertainment channel, from Cablevision.
Spanish isn't one of his languages, but that didn't stop him last year from taking point on the negotiations that put NBC in the Spanish-language–TV business with the $2.7 billion acquisition of Telemundo. Subsequently, Burgess spent another $300 million on local Spanish-language stations to fill out the network's distribution. And before that, he added KNTV(TV) San Francisco to NBC's station portfolio.
In addition to his main job—finding the next big thing for NBC to get involved with—Burgess sits on the president's council, which comprises NBC Chairman Bob Wright's top lieutenants.
Burgess's job is not exactly 9 to 5. "It's not like investment-banking hours either but sometimes it gets close," he says. "The job is to look at stuff. Then God forbid you should find something, it gets even harder in terms of the execution."
Burgess was born in the U.S. but spent just about his entire childhood in Germany, where his American father was stationed in the military. His mother is from Bavaria, and German is his native language. In fact, he holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Germany. Except for a slight accent, however, you wouldn't know he wasn't raised in the U.S.
Almost since he can remember, Burgess has been fascinated with U.S. pop culture and media. "When you grow up in Germany, you get a lot of cultural imports. And with my family association with the U.S., I've just always been interested in Anglo-American media generally speaking, especially music and video. I've always had a bit of a media-entertainment and information-technology type of bug."
Right out of college, in 1990, Burgess joined the London office of Goldman Sachs, where he specialized in commercial real estate and corporate finance transactions. Two years later, he shifted to the firm's Frankfurt, Germany, office.
A year after that, in 1993, he went stateside and back to school, earning an MBA from Wharton. Then, in 1995, he went to work for PepsiCo at the company's New York-area headquarters, focusing on merger-and-acquisition activity.
In 1998, he joined NBC as director of business development. About a year later, he was promoted to chief financial officer of the NBC TV Network. A major mandate during the almost two years he was CFO was cutting affiliate compensation, although he prefers the phrase "realigning the economic incentives" between the network and the affiliates. In any event, he says, the relationship with affiliates is "much more positive" now that the two sides are focused on finding ways to work together.
At 35, Burgess hasn't settled down enough to get married, but that's about to change. He's engaged to wed Saira Chaly, a consultant with McKinsey & Co., on Sept. 6 in New York.
Burgess is also a bit of an athlete. He's an avid skier who says his favorite slope is St. Anton in Austria. Back in his school days, he was also a competitive archer, attaining the German Vice Championship in the sport. He even tried out for the Olympics, but that didn't pan out. Today, Burgess has broader targets in his sights—acquisition targets.
"I'd love us to go a little bit heavier in content," he says of future acquisitions or ventures. "How heavy and at what time are open questions." Or as the French say, qui le sait.