So one of the perks of being at Columbia Business School in New York City is that a lot of really cool people live within 30 minutes of the campus, and our school (and by our school, I mean our students) does a great job of getting them to trudge up to Morningside Heights and talk to us.
So today, I got into the ever-so-exclusive Jeff Zucker brown-bag lunch meeting. There had been one earlier in the semester, however, I got a case of Montezuma’s revenge and couldn’t make. Actually, I probably shouldn’t have gone either since the meeting was scheduled during class time, and CBS has strict rules against students missing any part of class for these executive meetings. Of course, the meeting I went to today was during class time, but I made up for it by going to another sessions (and skipping out on Corp Fin for the day…my bad).
As for the meeting, I can see how Zucker climbed the ranks so quickly at ESPN. He could talk his way out of almost anything, and he is extremely engagaing. At this meeting, which consisted of about 15 of my fellow students, he was particularly interested in us as individuals and was willing and open to talk about anything and everything. I won’t go into it too much, since there was an unspoken code of secrecy that allowed Zucker to be a little more forthright than he would be in public, but needless to say, he was giving advice on everything from family life to hard core negotiations, and everybody was happy with the thought he put into answer a bunch of eager students’ questions.
Personally, Zucker answered a couple of questions that I threw at him. My first one was in regard to what he thought about Oprah Winfrey’s new cable network and why it wasn’t doing so well. More important than his answer, which spoke to the facts that the channel is on a high-number and Oprah doesn’t appear on her namesake network all that often, was the fact that he asked me my thoughts. Intelligently, I agreed with, then went on to say that her struggles could also stem from the fact the channel’s content just seems to be all over the place and they really don’t have a niche that they claim as of yet.
My second question to Zucker asked about this thoughts on ESPN’s ability to charge cable operators for access to the live-streaming website, watchespn.com, and whether her thought other companies would try to mimick that approach. Zucker more or less said that he didn’t think other channels have the type of in-demand, live content that ESPN has, which is what he thought would be needed in order to make that kind of deal.
Other people’s questions were both similar and disimillar to mine. Some people asked about work-life balance, others asked about Zucker’s future, some asked about their own futures. It was a great conversation, and one I would love to have again. I don’t think I necessarily need to have a one-on-one conversation with him the next time I meet him, but he’s certainly somebody I’d like to get to know, as he seems pretty genuine and rather cool to be honest. I’m sure I unfairly bashed him at some point on uzonyc.com back when NBC wasn’t doing so well in broadcast. But much like Zucker charmed his way to the CEO of NBC Universal in a period of about 15 years, he won me over in a short amount of time too.