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Smoothing NBC's Transitions: Jean-Briac Perrette

NBC has undergone a tremendous transformation during the past five years, from a broadcaster with a couple of cable networks to a mighty media conglomerate.

Jean-Briac Perrette, 34, was a key participant in that process, as NBC went on a buying binge capped by the company's purchase of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, creating NBC Universal.

Perrette currently wears two hats, serving as senior vice president of new media and chief financial officer for NBC Universal Cable. As such, he is not only leading the company's new-media strategy — initiatives like video on demand and HDTV — but he is also overseeing finances for an extensive cable-broadcast portfolio, which includes CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network, Sci Fi Channel and the Telemundo Network Group.

Perrette made his bones at NBC as vice president and CFO of business development. In that role, from 2000 to 2003, he was instrumental in completing more than $1.5 billion in acquisitions, including the purchase of Bravo from Cablevision Systems Corp., and KNTV in San Francisco. NBC also snapped up Telemundo.

“In that three-year period — this was pre-Universal — we ended up doing over $5 billion worth of deals, where in the 50 years before 2000, NBC really hadn't done much of anything,” he says.

Perrette, a former Credit Suisse First Boston analyst and a graduate of NBC parent General Electric Co.'s corporate audit program, handled the task of integrating Bravo into NBC's cable assets. That proved to be great preparation for the mammoth job Perrette inherited: folding Vivendi's networks — USA and Sci Fi — into NBC's cable holdings.

“Within the portfolio of things that needed to be integrated, the cable business was by far the biggest and the most complex,” Perrette says. “The cable business had fairly significant exposure and financial impact; we really had an integration to do, because we were melding two organizations as opposed to just bolting on a new organization.”

Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Content Strategy, worked closely with Perrette on the two integrations: Bravo and Universal. He says Perrette helped transition the company “under very unique and difficult circumstances,” given the strikingly different corporate cultures involved.

“The fact that JB comes out with high marks from all parties is just a testament to his strength as an executive,” Gaspin says.

It was with Bravo that Perrette first segued from business development to actual operations in the role of CFO.

Gaspin credits Perrette with being a good communicator, a crucial skill for a manager. “He's even-handed; he's level-headed; he's very articulate, and he's just a terrific communicator,” Gaspin says. “He learns what he doesn't know, and he listens — most important, he listens to people before he forms his opinions … It's a rare executive that actually can listen.”

Perrette is proud of his role in NBC's evolution into “I hate to use the word 'conglomerate,' but a media major. For me, that's a huge accomplishment.”