GE's Michael Pilot: 'Like Winning the Lottery'

From Leasing Trucks to Selling Advertising

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NEW YORK ( -- A month ago, Michael Pilot, the new NBC Universal president-ad sales, got the call every General Electric Co.
Michael Pilot is the new president-ad sales at NBC Universal.
Michael Pilot is the new president-ad sales at NBC Universal. Credit: NBC
executive dreams of getting. GE Chairman Jeff Immelt was on the line asking him if he'd like to switch from his job as president-CEO of the equipment finance group and join the glamorous network and cable TV business.

"It's hard to put it into words," Mr. Pilot said of his feelings at the time. "I was thrilled with three exclamation points. [At GE] you are always looking at NBC with envy. To me, it's the lottery."

Mr. Pilot is in the midst of a whirligig of meetings with the major media agencies, familiarizing himself not only with who's who in the famously tight-knit TV-buying community but with the ins and outs of commercial ratings minutiae.

'New to media'
"I'm new to media," he said, "but I'm not new to sales. I've been an externally focused guy. My first 60 days will be about getting to know our customers and the street and the agencies."

Mr. Pilot's has an easygoing demeanor and is self-confident enough to admit that he has a lot to learn. He's proven to be a sharp operator, though, doubling net income to nearly $500 million in his previous position at the equipment finance group. He was featured in a Harvard Business Review article in September about how information technology helps drive sales.

Some industry executives say it's refreshing to see the top NBC sales executive making the rounds. His predecessor, Keith Turner, was primarily an internally faced executive.

"I think the one thing that is similar to the job I had," Mr. Pilot said, "is that I'm still getting to know that it is a business of ideas, and that ought to be one of the real advantages: working with clients on how we can package these assets."

Important ally
Mr. Pilot will have one important ally -- NBC digital president Beth Comstock, whom he got to know during Ms. Comstock's time as GE's first chief marketing officer. They were on GE's commercial council.

But who and what will be under Mr. Pilot's aegis, given the aggressive pitches to ad agencies conducted by Ms. Comstock's group and new attempts to make the NBC Agency (NBC's internal marketing group) more amenable to ad partnerships?

"My team is the team that I'm inheriting from Keith Turner. Beth [and I] will be absolute partners. It's a business about ideas; that's how you bring things to life," he said, sounding like a true GE lifer.
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