The Two Narratives of Andrew Lack, NBC News' New Chief

Andrew Lack - P 2015

Andrew Lack - P 2015

NBC News insiders expect Lack to make rehabilitating Brian Williams a top priority.

Andrew Lack has been named chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. The announcement came via a staff memo sent out on Friday morning from NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. Lack will replace Pat Fili-Krushel, who will move into a corporate role on Burke's executive team.

Throughout the negotiations, Lack has had important advocates inside NBC News, where he was president from 1993-2001, and has maintained friendships with the network's top talent including Tom Brokaw and Matt Lauer, say sources. Lack also has a close relationship with exiled Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. And many at NBC News expect Lack to make rehabilitating Williams a top priority, though it's unclear what that would look like.

Deborah Turness, who was recruited in 2013 by Fili-Krushel, remains president of NBC News. Lack will have oversight of NBC News and MSNBC, not CNBC. NBC News and MSNBC, which has suffered sinking ratings that already have resulted in the cancellation of multiple shows, will get Lack's immediate attention.

Two narratives have emerged about Lack. One is that he brings experience and stability to an organization in need of both. The other is that he is a product of the bygone era of the broadcast business when resources flowed and competition was scarce, and thus he might chafe under the current landscape. Those who have worked with Lack describe him as a big-picture executive who inspires confidence and exudes a talent for "managing up."

"He's very intelligent, very articulate, very charming and very well-connected," says a former colleague. "He makes you feel like, 'OK, this guy has the answers.' And he's certainly a seasoned handler of talent."

Lack came to NBC News the first time during a challenging period. Producers at the newsmagazine Dateline had engineered a GM truck to explode in order to demonstrate supposed design flaws in the fuel tanks of the trucks. GM sued NBC News and launched their own investigation that revealed major flaws in the Dateline report. The scandal brought down the president of the news division, three producers and the anchor of the piece.

"It would have been very easy to cancel Dateline," continues the former colleague. "Instead he doubled down and made it into a huge moneymaker."

But as with anyone who has been in the business long enough, Lack does have his detractors. Multiple sources note that he's not an in-the-trenches executive — something many at NBC News believe is particularly critical right now. And his résumé was mixed after he left NBC. His stint at Sony was marked by a period of cost-cutting and downsizing — he trimmed staff at the music division by 10 percent — but he also was involved in the music giant's merger with Bertelsmann. He was named CEO of Bloomberg Media Group in 2008 and charged with turning the company's TV assets into a viable business. Insiders note that he was able to trim costs but he may not have achieved his goal of making Bloomberg into "the world's most influential news organization," as he stated in a 2009 New York Times interview.

And multiple sources note that Lack's news experience dates to an era before the painful economic contraction of the broadcast business and the flurry of competition from more nimble digital players.

"The world of journalism today is so splintered, and that's not his world," notes an executive at a rival company. "What they really don't have over there is adult supervision. I could see him coming in to be that guy. Not so much a strategic planner. But he can be the guy to make sure nothing goes off the tracks."

In a 2011 profile in Bostonia, a magazine published by Boston University, his alma mater, Lack offered this summation of his career trajectory: "I’m usually offered jobs where there is something big and broken."

Read Burke's full memo below.

I want to let you know about some changes we are making within the NBCUniversal News Group. Andy Lack is returning to the company as Chairman, NBC News and MSNBC. Andy will join our Executive Committee and report directly to me. He will begin in April.

Pat Fili-Krushel, who has been one of my most trusted advisors since she joined NBCUniversal four years ago, will move into a new corporate role on my executive team.

Andy is an accomplished journalist who began his award-winning news career in 1976 at CBS and rose through the newsroom ranks until he joined NBC News as President in 1993. While at NBC, he presided over the News division’s unprecedented rise to number one, led by "Today," "Nightly News," "Dateline" and "Meet the Press." In 2001 Andy was promoted to President and COO of NBC, where he was responsible for news, entertainment, TV stations, MSNBC and CNBC. Andy’s executive leadership also includes six years as CEO and Chairman of the Bloomberg Media Group, before leaving in September of 2014 to assume his most recent position as CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Prior to that, he was CEO and Chairman of Sony Music Entertainment.

Andy’s experience and familiarity with our company and specifically the news division will be critical to our growth and future success. Deborah Turness, President of NBC News and Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC will both report to Andy. Mark Hoffman, President of CNBC, and Andy will work closely to ensure that where appropriate CNBC will leverage the strength of the News Group portfolio. Mark will continue on the Executive Committee and report to me. All of Pat’s other direct reports will report to Andy.

When we created the News Group in 2011, I asked Pat to run it in order to maximize the combined strength of our portfolio as audiences fundamentally change the way they consume news. In that time Pat has helped position the organization for future growth by integrating television and digital, creating innovative partnerships, and modernizing the tools and technology we use to gather and deliver news. As she approaches three years in the role, I have asked Pat to return to my team and work directly with me again as she did before she took on her news responsibilities. I am grateful to Pat for her work and accomplishments at the NBCUniversal News Group and for helping to identify Andy as her successor. I look forward to having her back on the 51st floor.

Please join me in welcoming Andy back to our company and in thanking Pat.