In Washington, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch enjoys a certain cachet as the programmer everyone loves to hate. He routinely challenges the status quo, and his constant attempts at building his business while side-stepping government regulations have made him something of a lovable rogue.
That said, a rogue is not whom you want laying your groundwork on Capitol Hill, which explains why Murdoch hired Mike Regan to run his Washington office. An experienced Washington hand, Regan has worked in the Senate, in the House, at an established law firm and in a tough lobbying environment, and still has friends in all places.
"News Corp. did something very smart a few months ago in hiring Mike Regan," says Washington attorney Phil Verveer, of Willkie, Farr & Gallagher. "He enjoys superb credibility on Capitol Hill."
Says Peggy Binzel, executive vice president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Regan's predecessor at News Corp.: "He's a solid, skilled legislative pro." She also notes that he kept his cool—and his relationships—during stressful negotiations around the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
Five years later, Regan says his biggest challenge in running News Corp.'s Washington office is keeping track of all the many issues a broad-based media company is involved in.
"This is a cutting-edge business," he says. "What I admire about News Corp. is its entrepreneurial drive and spirit."
Besides promoting the corporation's interests in its core businesses, Regan wants to focus legislatively on other issues that affect it, such as taxes, health care and pension plans.
Having grown up in Washington, D.C., Regan left town for a decade attending college and law school. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was a John Motley Morehead Scholar, which provided him a new opportunity each summer to try a different career. One summer, he worked for paper company Weyerhaeuser in Seattle; another, he interned for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).
Having received his undergraduate degree in 1981, he enrolled in law school at the University of Virginia. "Law school provides good discipline for solving problems and thinking through things, but it doesn't give you the knowledge to be a lawyer."
He gained that knowledge through experience. He spent his first summer as a law student clerking at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington and, later, worked at law firms while deciding what he wanted to do.
He returned to Washington, after working for Denver-based law firm Tucker & Vaught. In 1986, he landed a job with his former boss, Sen. Thurmond, and became a counsel with the Senate Judiciary Committee. When the Senate turned Democratic in '87, Regan left and went into private practice with Verner, Liipfert, where he delved deeper into telecommunications issues and considered that he had found his niche.
In 1991, Regan became a senior counsel with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But the breadth and depth of his Capitol Hill experience, plus his good nature, made him a hot commodity among telecommunications companies, which were luring away young Hill staffers.
He moved to NextWave Telecom Inc., where he learned to hone his skills of patience and diplomacy as competitors and objectors slowly pushed the fledgling cell-phone company to the brink of bankruptcy.
Now at News Corp., Regan is dealing with an entirely different set of legislative and regulatory issues, chief among them copyright and privacy. He also has the small issue of EchoStar's $30 billion purchase of Hughes Electronics and DirecTV with which to contend. News Corp., the rejected suitor in that deal, still has to decide how vigorously it will oppose the merger.
With all that to focus on, Regan has a lot on his plate. But that's how he seems to like it.