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Rupert Murdoch, last in a dying breed

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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch entered the 1980s the same way as his competitors—as a publisher who understood publishing—but left that decade as a lover of business itself, reports columnist Michael Wolf.

By contrast, the folks at Dow Jones ended the 1980s as they began it—as newspaper people. Stated this way, it’s easier to see how Murdoch helped destroy his competitors:

Robert Maxwell, owner of the Mirror Group in London, an exaggerated figure whose excesses made him ridiculous, died by drowning as his empire was about to implode.

Conrad Black, owner of the Telegraph Group in London, like Murdoch a conservative, wanted to expound his views. Black was grand, dismissive, self-important and zealous, but his staff could control him with blandishments. His idea of interfering consisted of writing letters to the editors of his own publications. His Achilles’ heel was his excessive lifestyle. Black ended up looting his company to support his high living, and went on trial for it instead of competing in the marketplace.

Ted Turner outflanked Murdoch by launching CNN, the first electronic equivalent of a newspaper. Murdoch tried hard to buy CNN but wound up launching Fox News to compete with it. Turner was unpredictable—he engaged in the life of his newsroom and mugged for the camera, but he also pushed the limits of self-control and ultimately lost financial control of his company.

And then there were none.

Lesson: Murdoch is an odd duck of a media mogul (well, they all are), but the bottom line is that he tended the bottom line.

— Adapted from The Man Who Owns the News, Michael Wolff, Broadway Books.

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