Watch the Throne

Could Chase Carey really take over News Corp.?

If, heaven forbid, Rupert Murdoch were to be struck by lightning, or if he just happened to go to jail, he insists that Chase Carey—the mustachioed, Budweiser-drinking, Yankee COO of News Corp.—would be ready to take his place, suggesting both continuity in the organization, and, too, signaling a tacit understanding that his designated heir, son James Murdoch, might be too damaged by the hacking scandal in the U.K. to inherit the CEO job. “Chase is my partner, and if anything happened to me, I’m sure he’ll get it immediately—if I went under a bus,” Murdoch told analysts earlier this month.

For News Corp., that would mean elevating a professional No. 2 man, one who would never have expected to take on the top job. “If Rupert Murdoch comes from the North, I come from the North,” one senior media executive remembers Carey saying. “I don’t lean into the wind.”

Were the unexpected to happen, Carey’s News Corp. might quickly become far different from Murdoch’s—something that investors and employees might actually appreciate. Unlike his politically driven boss, Carey is a pure, dyed-in-the-wool businessman, focused on the bottom line.

“He doesn’t profess to be a newsman,” says former Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori, now COO at Discovery Communications. “He looks at businesses agnostically…He lets people do their thing, and he does what he does best, which is be a cold, sober, calculated businessman.”

Even better for the company’s bottom line, Carey doesn’t share Murdoch’s love of newspapers. “We’re overly identified with the publishing business,” he said last December. “[Newspapers] are not going to drive our future.”

Instead, Carey rules cable. It was Carey who led the campaign to make both Fox and DirecTV dominant sports platforms, turning them into the lucrative businesses that they are. “When Chase got put in charge of strategy, Barry Diller’s view was that Fox Network could be No. 4,” says a senior media executive, who asked to remain anonymous. “Chase’s view was, ‘Why not be No. 1?’”

Maybe most important at the moment, though, is that Carey has remained untainted by scandal. “He’s tremendously ethical,” says the executive. “This stuff would never have happened if he was in charge.”

The knock on Carey, no matter how shrewd he’s proven himself to be, is that he has so diligently acted like—and allowed himself to be regarded as—only a No. 2: an implementer, an executer, a follower—not a leader. “Rupert has the insights; Chase goes out and makes it all happen,” the executive cautions. Yet industry insiders also point out that among the postmogul class of executives at major media conglomerates, Carey is, in the words of one, “in that very top tier.”

Carey’s real problem in terms of ever becoming the top executive at News Corp. is Rupert Murdoch. Before the hacking scandal, Murdoch, at 80, was showing no inclination to retire any time soon. If he survives the scandal, most observers believe that he will want to stay to rebuild his legacy. And if Murdoch doesn’t survive, Carey—no matter how unscathed his integrity—may just be too much of a No. 2 for anyone to believe he can credibly lead the company as his own man.