Robert C. Wright, president and chief executive officer of NBC, delivered the Robert S. Hatfield Address yesterday on “Battling for Mindshare in Three Dimensions” in Schwartz Auditorium.
Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings III introduced the speech, applauding Wright’s efforts to take risks and think unconventionally in the rapidly changing field of technology. As a result, Wright had been named the 2000 Fellow in Economic Education, the highest honor Cornell bestows on a leader in corporate America.
“Over the past two decades, America’s most influential CEOs have served as Hatfield Fellows,” Rawlings said. “We are very pleased to add Bob Wright to that illustrious group at Cornell.”
Wright has been at the helm of NBC for 14 years, the longest tenure of any top network executive in history. Under his leadership, NBC has greatly expanded, venturing into new media partnerships, international programming and Internet media.
Wright’s address focused on the way technology is changing the face of society, as well as business at NBC.
“Today, people can exist in different modes,” he said. “You can be in one of your laboratories here at Cornell during the day, you could be reading a book at night, and be doing e-mail an hour after that, and not feel that those things are inconsistent.”
This technological multi-tasking is causing NBC to expand in new directions, most prominently with Internet news services like MSNBC.com and CNBC.com.
“We look to take something like CNBC or MSNBC and put it on as many platforms as we can … to extend its reach,” Wright said. “That’s probably the most successful endeavor we’ve had with CNBC. We are a global business now.”
While NBC goes to great lengths to expand its international presence, Wright admits they have much more to accomplish. Other countries, specifically Japan, still dominate the area of web-based technological advances.
“We have the different technologies, but we aren’t ahead in any of them,” Wright said. “They can’t make their web-capable phones in Japan fast enough.”
Wright disagreed with the popular public sentiment that personal computers will be the globally unifying technological tool of the future. He sees cellular phones as fulfilling that role, offering both affordability and advanced technology.
“The PC is really an impractical tool,” Wright said. “Do you think every country is going to be loaded with PCs when half the people in the world have never made a telephone call? I would vote that the cell phone is going to be the tool of choice for global information.”
This idea surprised some audience members.
“He talked about cell phones a lot,” Dan Indiviglio ’02 said. “I was kind of surprised that he thought the PC industry was going to be flat in the long term. I guess it does make sense though, thinking about it.”
“He really showed how technology is pushing forward and presented the international aspect of that too,” Priscilla Navarrete ’01 said. “It’s important for Cornellians to hear about that and how interactive media influences television and the Internet.”
At the end of the lecture, Rawlings presented Wright with a Stuben crystal in thanks for his participation in the Hatfield program.
Archived article by Abigail Conover