The Saturday Prole: JAMES MURDOCH: The Rising Son
Snoddy, Raymond, The Independent (London, England)
BSkyB executives knew journalists would only be interested in one question when James Murdoch, chief executive of the satellite broadcaster, announced the company's annual results earlier this week. And it had very little to do with profit or subscriber growth.
The only issue was whether the 32-year old boss, and Rupert Murdoch's younger son, was now heir apparent to the News Corporation throne following his brother Lachlan Murdoch's decision to stand down and return to Australia. And if so, was James Murdoch about to pack his bags and move to a grander role in New York, closer to the centre of power in the family firm?
'It was THE question all the way from A to Z,' noted one of those involved.
The previous day at the dress rehearsal that all big companies put their executives though before letting them loose to face journalists and City analysts, there was a relentless focus on Topic A. The question was put to James Murdoch in every conceivable form by his colleagues and advisers to ensure he was properly prepared.
They needn't have worried. Unlike his father, who is more than capable of a string of indiscretions if journalists dangle the right bait in front of his nose, James Murdoch, despite his relative youth, says only what he intends to say. Journalists who have tried to push him that little bit further have quickly encountered the Murdoch steel not far beneath the low-key, reasonable exterior.
On Wednesday, first up was Dan Sabbagh, media editor of The Times, part of News Corp's international media and entertainment empire.
'You're stuck with me. I am going to keep my head down and run this business [BSkyB] for the long term. That's what I focus on exclusively,' insisted the younger Murdoch. Two other journalists tried to get round the back with questions seeking to unravel why Lachlan, the 'first among equals' in the News Corp succession stakes, had decided to turn his back on what could have been his destiny. They didn't get very far and the attempts were batted away with familiar talk of refusing to comment on speculation.
Of course, James knows absolutely why his elder brother Lachlan has decided to give up his executive responsibilities on the News Corp board. The two are close and almost certainly would have discussed the dilemma posed by trying to establish the right balance between corporate responsibilities, personal ambition and family life.
It is, however, something that the adult Murdoch children would never discuss in public. They have said little on where they might reside on any succession pecking order or their relationships with their father, and, indeed, the image of siblings battling it out for the favours of the great man is largely a media creation. The reality is that all of his children will be very rich one day whether they are running News Corp or not. The family stake of around 30 per cent in the company that owns everything from the Fox film studio in Hollywood to the Fox News television channel and The Sun newspaper is already held in trust for them.
Although he would never admit it in public, and perhaps not even in private, it has been a very good week for James Murdoch. BSkyB's results were at the top end of City expectations and its share price rose. Rather more significant in the longer term, James Murdoch had indeed become the most likely to succeed to the highest office within News Corp should he wish to do so. With first Elisabeth, and now Lachlan ruling themselves out, largely because they want to create something for themselves, it has suddenly become a one-horse race.
Less than a decade ago not many would have put much money on the chances of the third child of Rupert Murdoch's second marriage to Anna Murdoch being in his present position of growing corporate power. If anything, he had the mark, if not of the black sheep of the family then of the college dropout, even if the college was Harvard and he was known to be clever. …