The next move up the ladder for Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan, the heir-apparent to the family's
global media empire, will see him face intense scrutiny in the
United States, the epicenter of the business.
The clean-cut 27-year-old, who sports a tattoo of a gecko
lizard on his forearm, has been the front-runner for the
succession since he took charge of the Australian newspapers
that launched his father's global ambitions.
But Murdoch senior, 67, is showing no signs of flagging, and
it could be a wait to the death for the final promotion.
Lachlan last week firmed as favorite to succeed his father
as head of the News Corp. empire after being given additional
rein over the U.S print operations, which include the New York
Post newspaper and publisher HarperCollins.
But Lachlan's older sister Elisabeth a key figure in
Murdoch's United Kingdom BSkyB satellite television interests
and a successful TV station operator in her own right is still
in the running, if an outside chance.
"On the whole, given their respective positions within the
company, he's (Lachlan) definitely seen as still having the
privileged pole position," leading London-based media analyst
Mathew Horsman told Reuters.
But that could change, said the Henderson Crosthwaite
analyst and author of Sky High: The Inside Story of BSkyB.
"Murdoch plays them off against each other and the children
sort of openly concede that that's what he does," Horsman said.
Still Good Friends
Despite the competition, Lachlan and Elisabeth are regarded
as close, traveling together on holiday in the past and joining
in recent celebrations in Sydney for the 90th birthday of the
family matriarch Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.
But the promise of a smooth succession was rocked last year
with the collapse of their parent's 31-year marriage and news
that Murdoch senior was involved with Wendy Deng, vice president
of News Corp.'s Hong Kong-based Star TV and 36 years his junior.
Murdoch's relationship with Deng, with a pending marriage
rumored, has sparked early but hesitant speculation that she
could join the leadership ranks of the family dynasty.
For now, however, the focus remains on the Murdoch siblings
with the family's 30 percent controlling stake in News Corp.
believed to have already been distributed among them.
Lachlan has had an impressive debut in Australia, a country
that takes pride in cutting down its tall poppies.
He has become a darling of the Sydney social set, riding a
powerful motorbike around town, risking the often treacherous
Sydney to Hobart yacht race, and recently announcing his
engagement to Wonderbra model Sarah O'Hare.
He is described by older associates as unfailingly polite,
while winning points at his first newspaper posting by eating in
the cafeteria and playing on the staff football team.
"He doesn't act like a crown prince," one observer said.
Elisabeth's Profile Growing
Across the world, Elisabeth is also winning a growing
profile, after consolidating her position at BSkyB to be named
managing director for Sky Networks, the programming and joint
ventures arm of the News Corp. affiliate.
The 30-year-old mother of two last year separated from her
husband, Elkin Pianim, a Ghana-born investor and publisher, who
has been linked with the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud.
In an interview with The Observer newspaper in September
1998, Elisabeth conceded she would like the top job.
But she put a limit on how far she would be prepared to
"I would like to be good enough, and worthy enough, to be
considered. But would I be ruthless towards my siblings in order
to be what is called 'the first'? No," she said.
"Actually, Lachlan and I did talk to Dad together and said
we don't have a problem with one person being the boss, but we
do very much feel it should be first among equals," she was
quoted as saying.
Murdoch had an abrupt start to his own career, forced by the
death of his father, Sir Keith, to interrupt an apparently
bohemian lifestyle at Oxford University and return to the family
business in his hometown of Adelaide at the age of 22.
It may take his own death before the reins pass to the next
generation, which includes younger son James, a latecomer to the
company who now heads its music and new media operations in New
York. Prudence, the eldest child from Murdoch's first marriage,
is not involved in the News Corp. business.
Asked in a recent British television interview what he would
do if he retired, Murdoch responded: "Die pretty quickly."
Huge Empire Awaits
Unlike his own relatively modest inheritance, Murdoch's
heirs are in line for a huge empire that spans newspapers, cable
and satellite television, book publishing, the 20th Century Fox
film studio and even the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.
News Corp generates annual revenue of US$13 billion and
Murdoch's personal wealth was estimated in 1998 at US$5.6
The next few years are obviously critical.
In her new post, Elisabeth will oversee BSkyB's new emphasis
on original programming, which the network is counting on to
help drive subscription growth for digital television.
Murdoch watchers will be keeping an eye on Lachlan's U.S.
performance and to see when and if he will be moved into News
Corp's engine room of American television and film interests.
It is a time frame that should suit their unflagging father.
"My children are not ready yet, even though they may not
agree with that," he said last year. "I'm planning for them to
wait a few more years."
News Corp. owns Fox News Online.