Rising Star: Steve Burke, Comcast
Meet Corporate America's next generation of leaders.
By Marc Gunther, FORTUNE senior writer


NEW YORK (FORTUNE Magazine) - Long ago, Steve Burke learned that one can achieve business success -- and satisfaction -- without becoming a CEO. His father, Dan Burke, worked for 30 years as deputy to Tom Murphy at Capital Cities/ABC.

After Harvard Business School, Burke got tutoring at the Walt Disney Co. from the late Frank Wells, the much-admired No. 2 to Michael Eisner, then Disney's leader. Now Burke is enjoying a productive partnership of his own as president and chief operating officer of cable TV giant Comcast Corp. (Research), where he works for chief executive Brian Roberts.

Steve Burke, Comcast
Steve Burke, Comcast

Roberts, 46, whose father, Ralph, started the company, isn't going anywhere. And though headhunters are hungry for him, Burke, 47, insists he is not hungering to run his own show.

"I would rather be COO working for someone I respect in an industry I love than be CEO someplace else," says Burke. "I'm a very loyal person. I was at Disney for 13 years. I've been married to my wife for 22 years. I love what I'm doing. Nothing has turned my head in the past seven years, and I can't imagine what would."

Burke and Roberts get along well; both are family-oriented, Ivy-educated boomers who grew up as sons of successful businessmen. While Roberts is the public face of Comcast -- making deals, touting the stock -- Burke is Mr. Inside.

Burke puts direct reports through grueling budget reviews but allows them a lot of leash -- a decentralized approach he learned from his father and his uncle, Jim Burke, a former Johnson & Johnson CEO.

When Steve Burke joined Comcast in 1998, the company had 4.5 million customers and sold one product -- cable TV. Today Comcast has 21.5 million customers and sells more broadband access than any other U.S. firm. It's the leading driver of on-demand programming, which goes beyond TV shows, movies, and sports to include videodating and karaoke.

Amid all that, Burke is raising his family in Philadelphia -- where he finds time to chauffeur his five children, ages 9 to 17 -- and has finished 13 marathons. The pay's not bad either: In 2004, Burke earned $21.7 million in salary, bonus, stock options, and a restricted stock grant. Last fall he signed a new five-year deal. Top of page

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Plus:
The war for top talent
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