Working shoulder to shoulder with the big boss for more than a year has its benefits. Just ask Salil Mehta, who has been tapped by NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke to be chief operating and financial officer of the fast-growing unit headed by Lauren Zalaznick that includes Bravo, Oxygen, Style Network, Telemundo, iVillage and Daily Candy.
Tuesday’s announcement of Mehta’s promotion comes as evidence that the exec, who joined NBCU from ESPN in 2008, is a rising star who is held in regard by the top brass at Comcast Corp.
“Salil spent nearly a year leading the integration efforts between NBCUniversal and Comcast, so I had the chance to work with him closely,” Burke said. “Salil is an expert problem solver and a great executive. I am pleased that he’ll be focusing his talents on one of the most important areas of our business.”
Mehta helped to negotiate the joint venture in his previous position as NBCU’s prexy of business operations, strategy and development.
In reporting directly to Zalaznick, chairman of NBCU’s entertainment, digital networks and integrated media division, Mehta will oversee all day-to-day operations, finance, legal and business affairs, business development and strategic planning. Other businesses in the unit include mun2, Swirl, Fandango and stakes in Sprout, ExerciseTV and TVOne.
Zalaznick said she needed the help and the business smarts that Mehta brings.
“I found myself with a vastly expanded portfolio at the close of the Comcast transaction, with not just one kind of business, but a multipronged set of businesses,” Zalaznick told Variety.
Mehta’s responsibilities include tracking revenue growth in his role as chief financial officer while working simultaneously, as chief operating officer, on strategic planning and making sure that all the division’s businesses are working smoothly after having been relocated.
“We need to operationalize, post-upfront,” Zalaznick said. “We’re still integrating the Style Network — it needs to be uncoupled from the Comcast entertainment structure and plugged into ours.”
Telemundo, Zalaznick admitted, poses a “a tall order” to the new division. Don Browne, who has run the net for the last six years, announced his retirement last week.
Since he was recruited to the Peacock by former CEO Jeff Zucker, Mehta has managed negotiations for the purchase of the Weather Channel, played a key role in the creation of A&E Television Networks, a merger of A&E and Lifetime in which NBCUniversal has an interest; as well as the sale of the company’s Sundance Channel unit to Rainbow Media Holdings.
Colleagues describe Mehta as genial, just as comfortable chatting with the guy who comes to fix his computer as he is with Burke.
“He just has a great way about him,” said Lisa Gersh, a former top executive at NBC, the Weather Channel and Oxygen, who worked with Mehta closely when she was at Weather Channel. “This a brilliant move. Lauren is so talented in programming and Salil is an excellent business person, but someone too, who loves the creative process.”
Mehta gained most of his experience in the media and digital realm as a top exec at ESPN Enterprises, overseeing new media, broadband, mobile, publishing and consumer product businesses. Before that he worked in biz development at Disney.
“Salil combines outstanding strategic and operational insights with experience in both traditional and digital media,” said Peter Murphy, Disney’s former chief strategic officer, for whom Mehta worked and who now runs his own private equity firm Wentworth Capital Management.
“He understands the critical importance of evolving trends in social networking and mobile devices, and the resulting impacts on consumers’ behavior and the NBCUniversal portfolio of businesses. He’ll be a great business partner for Lauren,” Murphy said.
Zalaznick said she’s been impressed by Mehta’s digital savvy.
“Pure-play digital inside a media company is not an easy task,” she said. “Our job is to get organized for change that we cannot see coming. We can’t predict what’s going to be invented next, but we can be prepared to capitalize on what the market yields next.”