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NBCUniversal diversity executive Paula Madison to step down

April 11, 2011 |  7:06 pm

NBCUniversal chief diversity officer and former KNBC-TV Channel 4 general manager Paula Madison is leaving the company after 22 years to focus on her family's investment business. Paula Madison

Madison becomes the latest high-ranking executive to depart in the wake of Comcast Corp.'s takeover of NBCUniversal -- but for a different reason than many others. Instead of being forced out, Madison wanted to become more involved with her family's 5-year-old company, Williams Group Holdings, which is majority owner in the Los Angeles Sparks professional basketball team and the largest investor in the Africa Channel.

"For years I have wanted to retire early," Madison said in an interview Monday. "There have been many instances where I had to recuse myself from a variety of our investments because of my position at NBC."

Madison said she began discussing her retirement with NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke less than two weeks ago.  They agreed her last day would be May 20 at the conclusion of Comcast and NBCUniversal's first Joint Diversity Advisory Council meeting in Philadelphia.

"The timing just made sense," she said.

In 2007, former NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker elevated Madison -- who for seven years was general manager of KNBC -- to a "cabinet-level" job that he carved out: chief diversity officer. Zucker wanted to underscore the company's commitment to minorities in the workforce as well as on the TV screen.

Although she had been thinking about retirement for some time, Madison said she wanted to stay on during NBCUniversal's change in ownership. After a nearly 13-month regulatory review, General Electric Co. in January transferred its majority stake in the media company to cable giant Comcast Corp. 

"Little did I know that diversity would turn into such a big issue during the approval process," Madison said. "I'm so glad that I follwed my instincts and stayed on to make sure that I would be part of that."

As part of an agreement with the federal government, Comcast agreed to launch 10 new independently owned-and-operated channels over the next decade in an effort to afford minorities a greater voice in media ownership, which is dominated by a handful of multibillion-dollar conglomerates.

Her family investment business plans to launch a new arm, Madison Media Productions, to make investments in multicultural media initiatives, she said.

Madison, 58, began her career as a newspaper reporter in her native New York and later worked in Dallas and Fort Worth. In 1989, she joined NBC-owned TV station WNBC Channel 4 in New York as an assistant news director. In 2000, she moved to Los Angeles to run KNBC Channel 4. She  worked as president and general manager of the L.A. station and its sister Spanish-language outlets until she took the corporate post.

NBCUniversal, meanwhile, said Burke would name a new diversity officer "in the next several weeks."  That person is expected to report to Burke, as did Madison.

"I'm glad that I'm leaving NBC in a good position in diversity," Madison said. "Steve Burke and all the people who work so hard on this issue will take good care of it."

-- Meg James

Photo of Paula Madison. Credit: NBCUniversal

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