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Jeff Zucker, Mark Hoffman, Stuart Sucherman Think of NBC’s Ed Scanlon




Jeff Zucker, Mark Hoffman, Stuart Sucherman Think of NBC's Ed Scanlon

Edward L. Scanlon was the ultimate insider.

The long-serving NBC executive was a hugely influential player in the network’s life during the decades it was owned by RCA and later General Electric. During his 44 years at RCA, Hertz and NBC, Scanlon was involved in everything from corporate recruiting and personnel research to high-level labor negotiations and mergers and acquisitions. He was a close confidante of GE Chairman Jack Welch. But Scanlon has never been in the spotlight, preferring to stay behind the scenes. In 2001, as Scanlon prepared to retire from NBC, the New York Times published a rare profile describing him as “NBC’s negotiator and fixer.”

Here, veteran media consultant and corporate recruiter Stuart Sucherman pays tribute to his longtime friend and colleague. Scanlon died on March 17 in Naples, Florida, one day before his 90th birthday.

The role Ed played at NBC for thirty years is difficult to define. Behind the scenes he operated calmly and professionally. Although his title was Head of Human Resources, Ed actually ran the day-to-day operations at NBC. He negotiated all major contracts, not only with top executives, but also with top talents such as Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw, Matt Lauer and Tim Russert. He played a major role in solving every major organizational issue. He was essential in negotiating and resolving all major labor negotiations.

Ed was a master of corporate politics and left many of us with memorable pieces of advice, such as: “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” Mark Hoffman, chairman and CEO of CNBC from 2005 to 2022, remembers him with admiration: “Ed was a marvel, playing three-dimensional chess while everyone else on television was playing checkers. He was priest-like in his approach, exerted enormous influence and was involved in every material decision, leaving few fingerprints and taking no credit.”

Rick Cotton, general counsel of NBC and later NBCUniversal for 25 years, said: “Ed was a once-in-a-lifetime businessman. clubhouse politician and financial analyst with razor-sharp business acumen, a terrifyingly accurate human judge, a student of great organizational behavior, all coupled with unparalleled decency and integrity. Every conversation with Ed made you feel better, even if you didn’t realize what he was telling you until the next day. He was almost always right.”

Ed’s influence extended far beyond his title. He was a mentor, confidant and friend within the NBC family who helped so many people, young and old, navigate their careers.

Jeff Zucker, former president and CEO of NBCUniversal from 2007-2011 and former president of CNN, was one of them.

“No one has done more for my professional life than Ed Scanlon. It was his unique idea to take me off the Today show in late 2000 and send me to Burbank to run NBC Entertainment,” Zucker says. “But I was just one of countless people whose lives he changed during that time at NBC. He was always the quiet, generous, kind wizard behind the curtain, the person who made everything happen at NBC, and very few people outside of 30 Rock ever really knew it. He was truly the mastermind behind much of NBC’s incredible success at the time. And many of us will be forever indebted to him. He was an incredible man.”

Scanlon played a role at NBC that is crucial to any modern media company. The truth is that there are many people who never seek public recognition, working behind the scenes and making organizations function rationally and efficiently. Ed was an excellent and masterful example of the archetype.

For those of us who were fortunate enough to work with him, Ed’s legacy will live on through the countless lives he impacted. We will remember him as a remarkable person and a true giant whose presence will be greatly missed.