Though NBC President Robert C. Wright was named vice chairman of NBC parent General Electric's board of directors last week, some Wall Street analysts say the elevation does not put him among the contenders to replace chairman and CEO John F. Welch, who is retiring in April 2001.
Wright, 57, was also named a GE executive officer and member of GE's corporate executive office. He'll continue to serve as president and CEO of NBC.
The appointment raises eyebrows because it comes at a time of transition for GE, due to Welch's imminent departure. Three executives have been identified as the top contenders to replace him: Jeffrey Immelt (medical systems); James McNerney (aircraft engines) and Bob Nardelli (power systems).
GE declined comment on the succession issue. But a spokeswoman did say Wright's appointment signals that he will be "one of the forces helping to shape the future of the new GE."
A buoyant Wright told Broadcasting & Cable last week that his appointment "is a good recognition of NBC and its success, and it's certainly great for me and hopefully great for GE. But I am keeping my day job."
As to exactly what his new duties will entail, aside from guiding NBC, Wright replied: "We have to let a little bit of time go by. They didn't give me a list.
"We're obviously going through a transition with the chairman so there's going to be a lot of things going on in the next six months, and I'll try to pitch in wherever I can be of value."
Wright becomes the second of two vice chairmen at GE, the other being Dennis Dammerman, CEO of GE Capital.
Commenting on the appointment, GE chairman Welch said, "Bob's a visionary with a great strategic mind, and he's a strong business leader..His insights over a long GE career have been invaluable and [he] will be a key force in guiding the company's future growth."
Wright has worked at GE most of his career, the past 14 as head of NBC, where at the start he was considered to be a fish out of water, particularly given that he was replacing television veteran Grant Tinker.
Since then, he has turned NBC into a multifaceted powerhouse.