James Murdoch, a Harvard drop out, former cartoonist and co-founder of a hip hop music label, did not always appear destined to follow his father as a media baron, but he will take the CEO job at Twenty-First Century Fox Inc with backing from some important investors.
Passing the torch to his eldest sons, Rupert Murdoch plans to hand the Fox CEO job to James and elevate James’s older brother Lachlan to co-chief executive chairman, a person familiar with the matter said. Murdoch, 84, will be executive chairman and is likely to retain an active role.
But James, 42, is “calling the shots as CEO and James is the one who has got recent operational experience,” Cowen and Company analyst Doug Creutz said.
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a family supporter and Fox investor who described James as a “giant” in previous comments to Reuters, described him as grasping the digital world, understanding how it is transforming the media landscape.
Investors often say that James is more enthusiastic about courting shareholders while being less sentimental about assets than his father, who built an empire starting with newspapers and was widely seen to have overpaid for Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co.
“One might expect him to be a little bit more adventurous in terms of acquisitions, especially on the international and digital fronts where he seems to be quite engaged,” said S&P Capital IQ analyst Tuna Amobi. James did a good job running Britain’s dominant pay TV-provider BSkyB, and since he moved to New York in 2012 he has improved his reputation on Wall Street, Amobi added.
The hip hop record label James began as a young man, Rawkus Records, was bought by News Corp, the company that later split into publishing arm News Corp and television and movie-making arm Fox.
The scion joined News Corp in 1996, at the age of 23. Over the years he was particularly lauded for his work as CEO of BSkyB, now known as Sky, as it became a pan-European operation.
Investors were particularly impressed with his role in spearheading Fox’s digital investments include the purchase of a 5 percent stake in Vice, the acquisition of True X, which helps broadcasters sell digital advertising and an investment in Roku, the streaming video player, sources said.
The biggest setback to his reputation likely was as head of News Corp’s British newspapers. In that role, he was criticized with failing to adequately respond when journalists at The News of the World were alleged to have illegally tapped phones and bribed officials in pursuit of stories. But a British parliamentary committee cleared James of any wrongdoing.
A big remaining question is how James will work with his brother, Lachlan, in what the source familiar with the matter described as a partnership, and whether the family will prosper without the help of a strong outsider in the executive ranks.
Well-regarded Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey is expected to step down from the role, a departure that analysts at MoffettNathanson called “unfortunate”.
Some analysts said they had been happy to have an outsider with Chase’s experience in one of the top jobs at Fox.
What’s clear, said Cowen’s Creutz, is that founder Rupert Murdoch had decided it was time to pass the baton.
“I think Rupert will have a say, but I think it is James’s company to run now,” he said.