A "Fierce Warrior" Learns the Ropes
By Louis Chunovic -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/24/2004 8:00:00 PM
A psychological detective might make much of the fact that "Lachlan," the Scottish given name of international media magnate Rupert Murdoch's eldest son, means "fierce warrior" in English.
After all, the 33-year-old scion looks the part: He's a fit and muscular runner, who on a recent morning started his day with a seven-mile-plus run along the footpath that edges Manhattan's West Side. He also pumps iron at the gym—though not often, he says, because he works long days and his responsibilities cross time zones and continents. But when he finds free time, he likes to sail and go spear fishing, too.
He could pass for Colin Farrell's brother. His once famously spiky hair is now cut back to a fashionably close-cropped buzz cut. And he's probably the only senior-level TV executive to sport a blue-ink Maori-design tattoo, a design derived from New Zealand natives. His encircles his left forearm.
He sounds the part of a powerful businessman, though. He's intense and knowledgeable about the many tentacles that make up the News Corp. empire, speaking quickly but softly and quietly, adopting the manner of many powerful men who know you will strain to hear what they have to say.
He was named for Colonel Lachlan Macquarie, the Scot who early in the nineteenth century became the colonial governor of Australia, transforming it from a hardscrabble penal colony into a thriving mercantile outpost of the British Empire. Macquarie is widely regarded as the Father of Australia and its largest city, Sydney.
Around the time of his birth, Murdoch says, "my mother was reading a book about the history of Sydney and Sir Lachlan Macquarie coming in." He's not impressed with that background: "You want to view yourself as your own guy," he says of his freighted first name, "and posit yourself on the name, not have the name posit itself on you."
Still, like his father, Lachlan Murdoch does have a reputation for being something of a rebel and for toughness at the negotiating table, even though sometimes he is 20 years younger than many of the high-powered executives he negotiates with.
"Lachlan is a very, very smart guy, a competitive guy, who loves to win," says Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures Television. "That's apparent. I've seen him in the newsroom at the newspaper [the New York Post, which Murdoch also heads]. He grew up in this business, with his dad, so I think he brings a maturity and a sensibility that other people may not have."
Fred Reynolds, the Viacom station group's CEO, doesn't know Lachlan Murdoch well yet, but from "everything I've seen, he's a very smart person and certainly knows the business."
Informed that some Wall Street analysts wonder about his youth, Murdoch seems to understand. "The truth is that my brother and I ... have huge responsibilities." His younger brother James heads British Sky Broadcasting, News Corp.'s direct-broadcast-satellite (DBS) operations in the United Kingdom, and is "doing a fantastic job," Lachlan says. "We're focused on the task ahead of us. We only ask that people judge us by the results."
Lachlan Murdoch, in point of fact, is a full decade older than his father was when he first stepped into the leadership position at the company that became News Corp., approximately a half century ago.
Still, Lachlan Murdoch is more than simply the youngest among any of his executive-suite peers charged with managing a major media company's owned-and-operated stations.
He has other corporate responsibilities, too. In addition to heading the station group and the gritty, controversial Post, he is deputy chief operating officer of parent News Corp., at which he is both a director and a member of the Executive Management Committee; a director of Fox Entertainment Group; the deputy chairman of STAR Group, News Corp.'s Asian DBS operations; and a director of Gemstar-TV Guide International, among other executive posts.
"I run, I think, roughly about two-thirds of the company's revenue," he says, "and we've had a record year."
Rupert Murdoch, says one Wall Street analyst, is "aware that the Street might be very leery of him putting one of his sons in charge of the company," so he's following a "pretty smart strategy: It's sort of a grooming process in public." The investing powers can get to know him over time.
While there may be no such thing as a typical day for Lachlan Murdoch, "on average, 40% of my time will be spent on television, 30% of my time probably on our print businesses and 30% on corporate responsibilities," he says.
His responsibilities make him not only bicoastal but transcontinental, and a work week can include trips to Australia, Italy and other spots around the globe. Murdoch is based in Manhattan, currently ensconced in fashionable Tribeca. Sarah O'Hare, his supermodel-actress wife, is expecting their first child next month.
He has spent much of his time recently in Australia, where he and his father were in the midst of a crucial campaign to persuade Australian institutional investors to sign off on the corporation's plan to move its headquarters from Down Under to Delaware.
When it comes to reaching American capital markets and increasing the company's share price, the proposed move, which is expected to be voted on in Adelaide this week, should put News Corp. on a more equal footing with Wall Street vis-à-vis its biggest rivals, particularly Viacom and Time Warner, according to analysts.
The change in domicile is "very important for the company," Murdoch says, but "it's not a surety that we'll get this through."
The reason? Big Australian investors who've stayed with News Corp. through good times and bad see a rosy future ahead for its stock, he says, but if corporate headquarters move to America, they may be forced to sell. "We will have institutions vote against it," he predicts.
Regardless of where the headquarters are, News Corp.'s culture will remain Australian in important ways, according to Murdoch. The media giant "came ultimately out of a small newspaper in Adelaide," he says, referring to father Rupert's first daily. "We grew by being the underdog and by making fast decisions, which you have to do in the newspaper business.
"That's always been the culture of the company: being the underdog and being devoid as much as possible of bureaucracy," he adds. "There's an Australian aspect about the company which is hard to describe."
He tries nonetheless: "There's a 'fair dinkum-ness' about the company," he says, using the Aussie slang that means, roughly, truthfulness or genuineness, with a suggestion of honest, hard work. "There's an egalitarianism about the company. We don't see ourselves as a media elite."
And as for that former trademark, the spiky hair, Murdoch says, "It comes and goes. I hate haircuts. ... I don't understand people that get their hair trimmed every three or four weeks. To me, it's just such a waste of time, so I usually let my hair grow, then I take it off every six months."
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