Hadley Gamble | Contrasting Views on Ousted NBC Universal CEO Jeff Shell: Industry Executives Speak Out

Industry executives present contrasting views on Jeff Shell, the ousted CEO of NBC Universal. Some were shocked by Shell’s admission that he was leaving due to an inappropriate relationship with a woman within the company, while others were less surprised. A close associate of Shell expressed complete astonishment, stating that Shell was expected to be more professional. However, a former NBCU executive claimed to have no suspicions or knowledge of any misconduct. Another individual, not particularly fond of Shell, confirmed never witnessed such behavior or even flirtatiousness from him.

However, different accounts emerged from other sources within NBCU. According to one former insider, Shell consistently harbored crushes on individuals and made inappropriate remarks. The insider added that Shell had a preference for attractive brunettes. Another individual recalled Shell being overly friendly with certain women at the company, describing his behavior as cringey but not necessarily creepy. Additionally, two former male NBCU executives mentioned being aware of rumors surrounding Shell’s conduct, with one stating that the company’s swift and decisive action in terminating Shell indicated credibility to those rumors.

As of now, only one relationship has been publicly disclosed: Hadley Gamble, a senior international correspondent at CNBC based in Abu Dhabi, filed a complaint of sexual harassment and sex discrimination after learning that her contract, set to expire this year, would not be renewed. The complaint was confirmed by Gamble’s attorney, Suzanne McKie. According to a reliable source connected to NBCU, there was at least one other incident involving inappropriate comments directed at an assistant. A source close to Shell maintained that his dismissal was solely related to the acknowledged inappropriate relationship, for which he took responsibility and apologized, asserting that no other issues were involved. NBCU declined to comment on the matter.

Shell began his tenure at NBCU in 2001 and was regarded as a rising star. After serving as chairman of NBCUniversal International in London for two years, he was appointed chairman of Universal’s entertainment group in September 2013. In January 2020, he assumed the role of CEO. The relationship with Hadley, who joined CNBC in 2010, reportedly began 11 years ago, but the details of their meeting and the current status of their relationship remain unclear.

Recent indications suggested that Shell had fallen out of favor with Comcast leadership. Following his assumption of oversight of the television division, Shell implemented an unpopular reorganization. Additionally, he faced challenges in launching and expanding the Peacock streaming service, leading to perceptions of him as a loose cannon without a filter, according to a longstanding NBCU executive. Former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann publicly criticized Shell, accusing him of lying on multiple occasions.

An industry source disclosed that when Comcast’s Brian Roberts engaged in merger discussions with Paramount Global Chairwoman Shari Redstone in 2021, he proposed placing Paramount President and CEO Bob Bakish in charge of the combined companies, albeit with Roberts retaining ultimate control. In 2022, Roberts explored a potential merger between NBCU and gaming company Electronic Arts, which would have positioned EA CEO Andrew Wilson as the head of the merged entity.

Growing increasingly anxious, Shell reportedly spent more time in New York in an attempt to mend his relationship with Roberts.

One aspect that puzzles many Hollywood insiders is how Shell could have engaged in improper behavior, especially given his public termination of then-marketing president Josh Goldstine in 2018 and NBCU vice chairman Ron Meyer in August 2020, both due to alleged inappropriate conduct. Shell, along with film studio chief Donna Langley, had conveyed to staff that the company took action against Goldstine based on credible and detailed information indicative of an unacceptable climate. Goldstine, now employed as the president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros., initiated legal proceedings and won an arbitration award of approximately $20 million in January 2020.

Meyer was forced to resign due to his involvement with aspiring actress Charlotte Kirk, which resulted in hush-money payments. While several industry insiders acknowledged Meyer’s misconduct as unacceptable, they believed that Shell’s handling of the situation was unnecessarily severe. A senior executive from another company criticized Shell’s actions, emphasizing Meyer’s 25-year tenure with the company and the fact that the woman involved was not an employee. This individual characterized Shell as a ruthless and reckless decision-maker who overestimated his knowledge and capabilities.

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