Cultural: News, Travel & Trendsetters

Bob Wright

Photo by Chris Fanning

If not for the commanding corner office and the breathtaking view from Rockefeller Center, one might mistake the soft-spoken and well-dressed man seated at his expansive desk as just a regular, nice guy. But there are just too many clues that point to something otherwise. The most prominent: On the walnut tabletop is a small toy, an “N-B-C”-labeled, red, blue, and yellow xylophone that, when chimed, produces what are perhaps the three most recognized musical notes in broadcasting history.

For those who know him well and appreciate his low-key demeanor and sharp focus, it should be no surprise that Bob Wright, former chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, took the reins of one of the fastest-growing and most profitable media and entertainment companies and brought it to a global audience.

Long before he became the powerful figure he is now, he began his ambitious life by studying law at the University of Virginia. He then received a promising offer from General Electric to relocate to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he was influenced by the mixture of the arts in the region.

With a continuing desire to practice law and no money in his pocket, he became the chief law secretary for a federal judge in New Jersey, where he went after criminals with names like “Sam the Plumber” and other mob figures who were just beginning to feel the legal pinch. The so-called RICO statutes had made it possible to go after organized crime families, and Wright and company struck fear into the hearts of the mobsters who would later become the models for The Sopranos.

Years later, figuring opportunity only knocks once, he decided to get into the cable television business with the Cox family in Atlanta, home of Ted Turner and an early stronghold of cable visionaries and entrepreneurs. The concept of HBO had just hatched, and CNN had just got moving. Wright later developed CNBC, which begat MSNBC. He purchased portions in Court TV and A&E, later moving on to Bravo, and Universal motion pictures studios, which included USA and Sci-Fi channels. Today, the activities continue as he faces new challenges from his office at “The Rock.”

Wright is the recipient of numerous awards for his generosity and time. In championing the fight against autism with his dynamic, loving wife Suzanne and their foundation Autism Speaks, Wright has helped build public awareness of the affliction. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Wrights and Autism Speaks, World Autism Day has received vast international support and awareness.

In 2008, Bob and Suzanne Wright were featured on the cover of Time’s “Time 100” issue, which annually heralds the 100 most influential people in the world. With their background in visual communication and knowing how the arts can support great causes, the Wrights have also helped form a National Fine Arts Committee, which includes some of the most prominent names in the art world, from Louise Bourgeois and Dale Chihuly to Baby Jane Holzer. With the Wrights, art, culture, broadcasting and community service are an exciting balancing act worth tuning in.