NBCUniversal announced a sweeping corporate reorganization Monday that includes the departure of NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, signaling that the storied news operation is looking to make a fresh start after years of controversies.
Lack was planning to retire at the end of 2020, with NBC News President Noah Oppenheim stepping up as his successor. But instead, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell has chosen to put Cesar Conde — chairman of Telemundo and the company’s international business — in charge of a newly formed NBCUniversal News Group. Conde is viewed as a rising star in the media company.
The new division will put NBC News, MSNBC and financial news channel CNBC under the same roof. CNBC Chairman Mark Hoffman, who had reported to Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, will now report to Conde. Oppenheim and MSNBC chief Phil Griffin will report to Conde as well.
The reorganization will also put all of the other television and streaming operations under Lazarus, who will continue to oversee the NBC Sports Group, owned television stations and affiliate relations.
Conde, 46, joined NBCUniversal in October 2013 as an executive vice president overseeing the company’s international and digital businesses, but he eventually segued into a role running Telemundo. Before coming to NBCUniversal, Conde was president of rival Univision.
“Cesar’s valuable and relevant experience leading broadcast networks and news divisions, combined with his high degree of integrity and proven management skills, make him the right person to lead our news group into the future,” Shell said in a statement.
Both Conde and Lazarus will report to Shell. Lack will leave his position later this month.
The veteran producer and executive who ran NBC News in the 1990s rejoined the division in 2015 after it was rocked by the revelations that former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams had misstated details about his reporting during the 2003 Iraq war.
Lack was able to oversee a transition for Williams to MSNBC while Lester Holt took over the evening news anchor chair. But the division has been roiled by controversy in recent years since former “Today” co-host Matt Lauer was fired over inappropriate behavior in the workplace in November 2017.
The division also suffered an embarrassing blow as it passed on Ronan Farrow’s reporting on the sexual assault allegations against disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Network executives said Farrow was unable to meet NBC News standards for getting the story on the air and allowed him to take his work to the New Yorker. He shared in a Pulitzer Prize for his work.
The news division’s handling of its sexual harassment issues and the Weinstein story led to protests from women’s organizations, which called for an outside investigation of the company’s workplace practices.
Even while NBC News was pilloried internally and externally for its handling of the Weinstein story, Oppenheim received a new multiyear contract and public support from former NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, who said that Oppenheim would be elevated to chairman when Lack retired. But Shell moved to reorganize the division soon after he was named to succeed Burke late last year.
Although Oppenheim is not getting the job he was promised, he will now have the opportunity to run NBC News without the oversight of Lack, who still had a hands-on presence in the operation, said two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment. Conde is expected to focus more on the business side of the operation.
But NBC News insiders say the changes could also presage a wave of consolidation within the division, especially amid the economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
NBCUniversal did not make executives available to discuss the executive changes.
Although most of Conde’s career has been spent in Spanish-language programming, he has a varied resume that includes stints in investment banking and in Washington, where he served as a White House fellow for Secretary of State Colin Powell at a pivotal time (2002-03) during the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Conde left government service in 2003, returning to Univision Communications when the late A. Jerrold Perenchio, who was a major political donor, controlled the company. Conde spent a decade at Univision, based in Miami, where he helped manage Univison’s networks.
He is not a trained journalist and his colleagues have long speculated he could achieve success in politics. He was born in New York City to immigrant parents; his father is a cardiologist from Peru and his mother is a Cuban exile.
Raised in Miami, Conde is a 1995 Harvard University graduate, where he co-founded the Cuban-American Undergraduate Student Assn. He earned his MBA in 1999 from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and worked briefly at Salomon Smith Barney in the 1990s.
He is a full member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Burke brought Conde to NBCUniversal, carving out a new role for him as head of international and digital enterprises. At the time, Conde had a non-compete clause in his deal with Univision so it wasn’t until 2015 that he segued to a new post overseeing Spanish-language Telemundo, which has made tremendous gains.
He led Telemundo when it vanquished Univision to become the top Spanish-language network in prime time for the first time in the network’s history. The network has strengthened its national and local newscasts, part of Comcast’s commitment to local news. In Los Angeles, Telemundo’s KVEA-TV Channel 52 is consistently one of the top-rated stations in the market.