Get To Work: With Suzy Welch

Discovery CEO says taking a pay cut at 27 was one of the best decisions he ever made

Before Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav became a rising star executive in the cable industry, he worked as a lawyer. In order to change professional tracks to pursue his passion for television, he took a substantial pay cut.

In a wide-ranging interview with CNBC contributor Suzy Welch, Zaslav reveals that the decision to reduce his income by 50 percent to follow his dreams was one of the best he's made in his career.

"I think I've been very lucky," Zaslav says. "I was working at a law firm ... and I saw the cover of a magazine and it was Bob Wright and Jack Welch [former GE CEO] saying that GE and NBC wanted to get into the cable business."

CNBC contributor Suzy Welch and Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav
CNBC
CNBC contributor Suzy Welch and Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav

As a result, the 27-year-old Zaslav wrote a letter to Wright, then the CEO of NBC.

"I'm a young lawyer working in the cable business," he says he wrote. "I love it. And if you're really gonna be getting into the business, I'd love to come along for the ride. I think that I can bring a lot to the table."

He went to NBC's offices for an interview that led to a job offer.

"People thought I was crazy," Zaslav recalls, "because I took a 50 percent pay cut to go over and work there."

But Zaslav says he made the correct decision.

"I felt like there was something there for me," he says. "I love the cable business. This was a company that was going to get started and try to fight. I wanted to be there."

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav
CNBC
Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav

That early career risk set Zaslav up for success. He became CEO of Discovery in 2007 after nearly two decades at NBC, during which time he worked on the launch of properties including CNBC and MSNBC. Discovery Communications is the parent of successful channels like TLC, Animal Planet, OWN and, of course, the Discovery Channel.

And Zaslav's paycheck these days? Approximately $37 million in 2016, according to Variety.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC, MSNBC and CNBC.

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