Search the term "wunderkind" and several entries about Jeff Zucker will no doubt turn up. The ink had barely dried on Zucker's Harvard bachelor's degree when he joined NBC as an Olympics researcher ahead of the 1988 Seoul Summer Games. In 1989, he parlayed that into a gig on the Today show, and was named its youngest-ever executive producer in 1992. He was 26.
"Looking back on it, I can't believe they gave me the job," Zucker said. "I lived and breathed every aspect of the show 24/7, and I loved every minute of it. I was young, and I made some mistakes, and doing so in the bright spotlight of media attention wasn't always easy. But I did my best to learn from them, and not make the same mistake twice."
In his early 30s, two bouts of colon cancer proved to be only a minor a setback. In 2000, a year after his second diagnosis, he headed west to oversee NBC Entertainment. By 2003 he was given the reins of NBC News and cable, and by 2007 he reached the top: CEO. He was 41. Zucker's tenure at NBC lasted until 2010 after Comcast acquired NBCU. After overseeing the launch of Katie Couric's short-lived talk show, Zucker returned to his news roots and was named president of CNN Worldwide in 2012.
This story first appeared in the October 3, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.