News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWS)
investors should be asking two questions. Is Rupert Murdoch history?
And who will replace him as the titular ruler at NewsCorpse?
As a journalist, I would hate to see Murdoch go. He's like the late,
great Richard Nixon, whose antics made such good reading every morning.
The doings in the House of Murdoch are much more entertaining than Boner and the Gang in Washington.
But I can appreciate investors' concern. Sir Rupert certainly looked
tired at the pie-in-the-Sky TV hearing in Parliament. He looked like a
man running out of gas, and I don't mean flatulence. Vague, detached,
unfocused, filled with Pinter-esque pauses, he came across as an old man
who was not quite all there.
Still, I wouldn't bet on him throwing himself -- or getting pushed --
off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The fact that he's an eightysomething is
not a factor. His mother is onehundredsomething and still breathing fire.
Picking Sir Rupert's successor in the next few months could become
the second favorite indoor sport for media investors, after declaring
newspapers dead. I personally think both rumored deaths are premature.
What are the alternatives in the race to become Murdoch II? Here's a quick survey of the Murdoch bench.
James, the graying hair apparent, is giving nepotism a bad name. The
erstwhile righthand son was as vague as the old man at the parliamentary
select hearing, raising questions about his fitness for the role of
Numero Uno. His "I didn't know about that... That's a very good question, glad you asked it"
management style may have been a brilliant PR strategy, but it does not
bode well for steering the company through the rough patches ahead.
Sister Elisabeth is the creative member of the family. She's the one
who told her father about the "American Idol" concept, gleaned from
watching UK programming, and gave it a buy recommendation. She's the
only one in the family who actually watches TV. But you don't want
anybody who might be sickened by what is on Fox News in charge of the
Honorable son number two, Lachlan, is the wild and crazy one. With
the spiky hairdo, earring, and tribal arm tattoos, combined with his
general anti-establishment ideology and his passions for grunge bands,
rock climbing, and yacht racing, he's established himself as the
independent Murdoch. He's cleaned up his act a lot in recent times.
Still, would investors really feel comfortable with a CEO who allegedly
put four-letter messages about the company on his T-shirts?
I'm not putting any money on James or his siblings to take over when
Sir Rupert goes into the senior moguls' home. I'm going with the dark
horse: Wendi Deng Murdoch.
A vice president at News Corp.'s Star TV in Hong Kong with an MBA from Yale, the third Mrs. Murdoch showed her take-charge ability in times of crisis with her socko performance against the shaving cream pie hurler during the House of Commons inquiry.
She demonstrated her skills at internal corporate affairs by pushing wife number two, Anna, out the door only two years after meeting Sir Rupert at a company meeting in China.
Murdoch is running out of continents to take over, but he still has
Asia. And with the UK and other parts of the British Empire failing to
appreciate him lately, Rupert is likely to focus on the world's largest
untapped media market: China.
An old China hand, Mrs. Murdoch is already making Rupert a household
name, like Drano. And though some say she has all the charm of Madame Nhu, the archetypal "dragon lady" of Asian politics, one thing is clear. Nice guys don't win pennants.
IMO, Wendi is the hot ticket. You read it here first.