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How Comcast-NBCU deal got done

Flying under the radar, Michael Angelakis saved the day.

Talks over Comcast Corp.'s buying NBC Universal Inc. had hopelessly bogged down in a meeting at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia on July 31.

Breakfast spilled into lunch. "We had to stop the happy talk and put something on the table that was acceptable to both sides," said Paul J. Taubman, head of investment banking with the Morgan Stanley firm in New York, who was Comcast's adviser and present at the meeting.

No go. General Electric Co. was negotiating for billions of cash for its minority stake in NBC Universal several years down the road. Comcast didn't feel like it should commit without a sweetener.

The group broke up frustrated.

The man who rescued the $30 billion NBC Universal merger for Comcast: Michael Angelakis, the Boston-bred 45-year-old chief financial officer at the cable giant.

About two weeks later, Angelakis flew to Cape Cod and met at the home of GE executive Keith S. Sherin. Angelakis and Sherin, a GE vice chairman, talked for about two hours. On the way to dinner in Chatham, they drove separate cars to phone their respective bosses - GE's Jeffrey Immelt and Comcast's Brian L. Roberts.

Roberts, the chairman and chief executive officer who desperately wanted an NBCU deal, got the call at Jake's in Manayunk and rose from his table and walked outside to hear Angelakis in his rented car on the Cape. Roberts was pleased; they had broken through. "It was as if we worked together all our lives," Roberts said.

Among the few inside the Comcast Center who knew of Angelakis' Cape Cod trip, the meeting was viewed as critical to the making of the deal. The companies announced Dec. 3 that Comcast would buy a majority interest in NBC Universal for $6.5 billion in a complex deal that will hand control of the entertainment giant over to the cable TV and Internet company.

The Cape Cod meeting also raised the profile of Angelakis, who had joined Comcast in 2007 from private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners Inc. and was called on several times to resolve impasses throughout nine months of Comcast-GE negotiations.

At another crucial moment, in October, Angelakis had invited Sherin to his house in Gladwyne for coffee and discussions in his kitchen. A hotel was impersonal, and the news would leak if he had met Sherin at the Comcast Center, Angelakis said.

Near the end of the up-and-down negotiations in November, Angelakis - a guy with a mischievous smile and a Boston accent who likes to fly under the media radar - helped finalize negotiations with face-to-face talks with GE officials at a New York law firm.

"I never saw him lose his temper, no matter how stressful the situation or how high the stakes," said Morgan Stanley's Taubman.

In an interview Thursday in a 52d-floor conference room next to his office, one of his first since joining the company, Angelakis said the NBC Universal deal was a great achievement for Comcast and one that he believed would pay off for Comcast shareholders.

Angelakis rejects comparisons to the disastrous AOL-Time Warner Inc. merger.

"Our shareholders, the sophisticated ones, have gotten it," Angelakis said. "We feel very good that those cable companies are going to grow," he said.

Angelakis said he was frustrated at the news leaks after, a Hollywood news site, reported on the Comcast-GE talks in late September. It hurt Comcast's stock price. Over the last two weeks, Angelakis, Roberts, and Comcast executive Stephen Burke have met with 90 large investors to explain the deal.

Under its terms, Comcast will buy a 51 percent share of NBC Universal for $6.5 billion in cash.

GE will own the other 49 percent. How GE could exit that final 49 percent was the impasse that led Angelakis to Cape Cod.

There, Angelakis brokered a deal: Comcast agreed to pay General Electric a minimum of $5.75 billion for GE's 49 percent over seven years, although the amount could be higher.

But Angelakis got something in return. NBC Universal, which owns the USA, Bravo, and CNBC cable channels, could appreciate in value over the next several years as Comcast invests in the entertainment business and the economy recovers.

If NBC Universal appreciates, Comcast can claim half of the appreciated value in GE's 49 percent ownership stake. "If our organization is going to work hard and help manage the asset, then we want to be paid," Angelakis said.

Before the deal can close, it faces a stiff regulatory review in Washington by the Federal Communications Commission and antitrust regulators.

Roberts is a fan. He said he interviewed 15 candidates for the chief financial officer position before settling on Angelakis. In fact, the first time Comcast approached him, Angelakis turned Comcast down, Roberts said.

Angelakis eventually changed his mind. "Brian and Ralph [J. Roberts] and Steve [Burke] were very persuasive guys," he said with a laugh.

Angelakis and his wife, Christine, are raising three children, and the adjustment to Philadelphia from Rhode Island for his family was a hard one. They are doing fine now, he said. He pals around with Burke for fly fishing and pheasant hunting.

Of the NBC Universal negotiations, Angelakis said: "We started at the zero yard line and pushed the ball forward."