GE CEO Immelt douses the drivel

The value of NBC Universal ($40 billion by some estimates) makes it a candidate for growth, not a sale, reports Fortune's Patricia Sellers.

By Patricia Sellers, Fortune editor-at-large

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- "That was more or less made-up stupid drivel," says General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt about a story in Wednesday's New York Post, which speculates that he is considering a sale of NBC Universal.

Immelt made the comment Wednesday afternoon to NBCU employees in Rockefeller Center's Studio 8H (the home of Saturday Night Live) who gathered to welcome Jeff Zucker as their new CEO and to honor Bob Wright, his predecessor.

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General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt

Speaking to some 400 employees in-house (plus thousands more watching remotely) Immelt clearly was eager to swat down the Post's "Plucked Peacock" article and all other speculation that he will likely exit the media business if it doesn't perform well in the next 12 months. "This is a big, global growing industry. We've got every piece we need to be successful.

"It's going through change. But we're a 125-year-old company, and change is what we do better than anything." He added, "I'm more convinced than ever before that NBC Universal is going to be a terrific contributor to GE investors."

Immelt, like any smart CEO, aims to keep his options open. And of course, he thinks about the value of NBC Universal as a freestanding entity, which some analysts have estimated to be close to $40 billion. (NBC Universal brought in $2.9 billion in profits on $16.2 billion in revenues last year.) But Immelt said that the bulging value of GE's (Charts) media properties (which also include CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, the Sci Fi Channel, and Universal Studios) makes them more likely to be keepers, not less.

"This industry has a 20 PE (price-earnings multiple). That's higher than GE's," Immelt explained. "I don't know how to be clearer. We're here to stay and here to play." Pausing, he put the pressure on his audience to perform: "I'm not going to tolerate people who don't want it. But if you want it, I'm going to help you not just survive but thrive in this world."

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