Baron of 21st Century Fox, News Corp. speaks candidly in Fortune Q&A
Rupert Murdoch sees his sons working together “as a team” to help lead 21st Century Fox and News Corp., and he also sees daughter Elisabeth coming back into a broader corporate role down the road. And he would like to hire DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider for a top role at 20th Century Fox.
Those are among the topics the media baron addresses in a candid and wide-ranging interview with Fortune that encompasses everything from the painful divorce he went through last year from third wife Wendi Deng to his sizing up of the Republican presidential heat for 2016.
The agreement announced last month to bring Lachlan Murdoch back to the family business as non-exec co-chairman of 21st Century Fox and News Corp. and the elevation of James Murdoch to co-chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox came together at father-son meal last July during the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, Murdoch reveals.
Lachlan, Murdoch said, “was always going to come back. Lachlan is someone who’s been in love with media from the age of 12. He spent all his vacations working in pressrooms. But Lachlan and James and I had a very serious talk about how we can work as a team in July of last year. It was at the Allen & Co. conference. We broke away for a meal. We had two or three hours together. Lachlan was not not going to come back. It was a question of how we would work together. How would we be a team?”
At the same time, the 83-year-old mogul emphasized his own good health and the fact the he expects 21st Century Fox COO Chase Carey and News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson to be around for years to come.
Murdoch was less forthcoming about Elisabeth’s long-term plans but when pressed about her returning to a high-level role beyond her Shine Group unit he said: “It’s more than possible.”
On bringing Snider to 20th Century Fox, Murdoch said it was ultimately studio chief Jim Gianopulos’ call but he made his feelings clear about the film vet. “I would like to” hire Snider, he said. “I’m a great admirer of hers. And I’ve had long talks with her. I think they’re at a stage—it would be improper to talk more about that. It’s really for (Fox Studio chief) Jim Gianopulos to hire her.”
As he has before, Murdoch admitted a mega misstep in News Corp.’s purchase of the parent company of MySpace in 2005, calling it “one of our great screwups of all time.”
He revealed that Facebook chieftain Mark Zuckerberg met with him around that time about a possible acquisition that Murdoch wished he had pursued. “I remember Mark coming down to visit my ranch. He was a very shy, quiet young man of about 20 or 21. And he was all for us getting together. And I didn’t take him up on it. I think he’s done a brilliant job,” Murdoch says, though he questions the Facebook’s sky-high market cap today.
“I think that $200 billion (market cap) for that, no matter how good the company, is going to be very hard to justify in the long term,” he said. “I don’t have confidence in the permanence of any particular social app or social network, you know?”
Murdoch acknowledged that his own freewheeling use of Twitter is subject of some familial debate.
“My family are horrified that I’m on it,” he said. “They think it’s ridiculous. And people like Robert Thomson have said, ‘No, it’s extremely good personal public relations to show you’re interested in more than just making money.’ ”
(Pictured: Lachlan, Rupert and James Murdoch at the 2013 Allen & Co. conference)