Rupert Murdoch has firmly ensconced his sons, Lachlan and James, in high-ranking positions in his media empire – to outside appearances treating the company as if it were a mom-and-pop store, where the keys can be passed down to the kids.
In some respects, there’s something endearing about that philosophy – or at least, about Murdoch’s commitment to passing the torch in the same way he inherited a vastly smaller newspaper enterprise from his father, only to parlay that into a global titan.
At the same time, given the vast scope of 21st Century Fox and News Corp., the elder Murdoch might be doing his sons no favors – or at least, setting them up for the inevitable scrutiny that comes from the perception nepotism drove a decision.
Granted, it’s hardly new for the sons and daughters of the elite to also rise in Hollywood, following their parents into the business. Thanks to the sometimes arcane nature of how the town operates, there’s certainly something to be said for growing up steeped in its culture, which might provide a better understanding of the media business’ quirks as well as advantages in cementing key relationships.
Still, relatively few matriculate to positions subject to questions of corporate governance and the approval of a board. And those who do – such as NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke, whose father, Dan, ran CapitalCities/ABC – usually don’t take the reins directly at their parent’s company, which only heightens the level of potential second-guessing.
While he was still serving as News Corp.’s chief operating officer, Peter Chernin was asked what he saw as the future of the company. “A lot of Murdochs,” he quipped.
Everyone has known that was always Murdoch’s intention, even if it meant missing out on or losing candidates like Chernin.
Years ago — at the start of the new century, when 20th Century Fox had just entered the 21st century — I wrote a tongue-in-cheek open letter to Murdoch about his succession plans, inspired by the fact Lachlan, then 29, had just been promoted to deputy chief executive officer. In light of the ascent of those sharing his surname, the piece asked whether it might be possible to become part of the Murdoch family.
Obviously, that didn’t work out. Yet with the media landscape looking even more unpredictable now than it did back then – especially for journalists – it probably doesn’t hurt to ask Murdoch, a newspaper man at heart, one more time: Is it too late to adopt me?