Keith Rupert Murdoch turns 80 on March 11. While he regularly makes fun of other old people—particularly Sumner Redstone, the 84-year-old chairman of Viacom and CBS—Murdoch’s own age is something he almost never discusses. Part of his business strategy is to project an almost frightening sense of his own permanence and invulnerability.
His mother, the grandest woman in Australia, is 103, after all. (Pay no attention to the fact that his father died at 67, that Murdoch was a heavy smoker into his 40s, and that he’s had prostate cancer.)
And yet he’s obsessed with succession, too. He’s as atavistic as a Kennedy in seeing his children’s destiny as his own: they will take over the family business. But part of the method and guile with which he approaches his succession—integrating his children into the fabric of the company in such a way as to give his shareholders little or no say in the matter—is also how he keeps them from succeeding him before he wants them to.
Lachlan, 39, was once the heir, but was then deposed in favor of his brother James, 38. Still, both brothers sit on the News Corporation board, where they regularly and publicly snarl at each other. Now, their sister Elisabeth, 43, who was a likely heir before she left the company in a huff in 1998, is back in the fold. Her father is buying the company she owns, Shine, an independent television production company. (He did this once before, buying from her the television stations she and her former husband bought as first-time entrepreneurs after college.)
It’s a canny move. Murdoch not only brings his blood around him in mafia fashion, he also further muddies the waters about who will actually succeed him and when. James runs a considerable portion of the company overseeing European and Asian operations. But with the $750 million purchase of Shine, Elisabeth is now the richest Murdoch sibling, and, with her eye on television programming, likely to run the most profitable part of News Corp.
There is, too, complicating matters further, the siblings’ half sister Prudence, 52: the four adult children comprise the Murdoch family trust, which will vote the controlling shares—with no tie-breaking mechanism (the younger Murdoch children, Grace, 9, and Chloe, 7, are economic participants in the trust, but will have no vote).
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