Here's What We Learn About Rupert Murdoch From His Interview With Fortune Magazine

Rupert hopes to live to 123. Photo: Getty/J.Sullivan

Rupert Murdoch, one of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest men admits breaking up is hard to do, in a candid interview published in Fortune Magazine.

Sure, there was the 83-year-old’s divorce from his wife of 14 years, Wendi Deng, but it was actually splitting his company into two publicly-listed businesses that was stressful. He was reluctant to do it on emotional grounds, but has no regrets.

“I was reluctant to see the company split, and now I’ve got to say that I’ve been proved wrong. I think it’s been a great success,” he says.

Here’s what he had to say about some of the important issues he’s faced in recent times. He didn’t address the phone hacking scandal in the UK, citing legal reasons.

On Wendi Deng

As for his third marriage, his focus is on their children, aged 12 and 10. “All I’m worried about or do worry about is two beautiful little girls from that marriage… they come and stay with me a great deal.” He wishes he could have divorced “quietly” and when he heard about Wendi Deng’s diary entries discussed other men, he was “shocked” but didn’t read them.

Murdoch says people were discussing what was happening at his ranch – the details were outlined in Vanity Fair, which he regrets – but not telling him. The whispers reached him in Australia and his discovered the truth from staff on his return. He filed for divorce a week later “as soon as I could find a lawyer”.

On Newspapers & Digital

The New York Post lost around $40 million in 2012. Murdoch thinks it will go totally digital within 10 years, but the print edition of the Wall Street Journal will last another 20 years.

Part of the future in digital is video: “I think newspapers come alive that way. We talk about “papers”. We should cut out the word “paper,” you know? It’s “news organizations.”

They “didn’t do a good job” on Factiva, the news hub based around the WSJ and Dow Jones.

“People loved Factiva. [We said to Factiva customers:] “Look, you’ve got to pay much, much more money, and you’ve got to take everything or nothing.” They said, “Nothing.” So we’re now repairing that,” Murdoch said.

On Social Media

On paying $580 million for MySpace, sold six years later for less than 10% of that price to a consortium that included musician Justin Timberlake, Murdoch says “I think it was one of our great screw-ups of all time.”

Mark Zuckerberg visited Murdoch’s ranch and “was all for us getting together. And I didn’t take him up on it. I think he’s done a brilliant job”, but Murdoch believes Facebook’s $200 billion value “is going to be very hard to justify in the long term” because he doesn’t have confidence in the permanence of any social app or network.

His family are “horrified” he’s on Twitter and “think it’s ridiculous”, but News Corp CEO Robert Thomson thinks its good PR.

On TV and Film

There’s a second and possibly a third Avatar film in the pipeline. The sequel is due late 2016. If we make it, it will be the first time Jim Cameron’s been on time or on budget,” Murdoch says.

His new Fox Sports 1 cable network is taking on the ESPN “goldmine” but expects “to lose a couple hundred million dollars for a year or two” before the turnaround.

Meanwhile, Fox News will make more than $1 billion this year “and can do a lot better”.

Fox got out of China because it wasn’t making any money and was a little fed up with official interference in the day to day running. Making movies there is impossible because “they want to censor every line in every movie, and they can take a month giving you a decision on one line” but he will try again.

On his family & Lachlan’s return

Last July Murdoch had lunch with sons Lachlan and James which included “a very serious talk about how we can work as a team”. Lachlan didn’t want to return to the business he left in 2005, but last month announced he was rejoining the board as non-executive co-chairman.

“Lachlan is a wonderful human being with his feet very firmly on the ground,” his father says, going on to defend his other son, James, from the fallout over hacking allegations in London, saying it occurred “long before James took charge”.

Lachlan’s investment was one of the best purchases the company’s made, having bought 44% for $1 million in 2001, then spending $100 million on a further 18%.

It’s now worth $7 billion and Murdoch is keen to expand it internationally, regarding US companies such as Zillow and Trulia as overpriced.

Murdoch declined to discuss why his daughter, Elizabeth, refused to join the News Corp board after selling her production company to them, but says they’re “a very, very close family”, thinks the stresses in the family have been repaired – his daughter gave a scathing lecture which questioned the values of News Corp and criticised her brother James; “I think she was hurt when I said I didn’t really love it or like it,” Murdoch said.

On life

He’s been spending up on property of late, buying a $57 million Manhattan apartment, plus a California vineyard.

Murdoch jokes that you should live 20 years longer than your parents. His mother, Dame Elizabeth, died in 2012 aged 103. He says he’s in good health, despite having a fall and cracking his skull in a San Francisco hotel in January, which caused enormous pain.

He says he’ll step down when his children tell him he’s losing his mental edge.

He doesn’t care about what people say about him. As a leader, he’s “permanently curious” and that curiosity keeps him alive, even if he thinks “I probably waste my time being curious about things that have got nothing to do with the business sometimes”.

But there’s one thing he’s not curious about: Murdoch’s never read a book about himself.

The full interview is here.

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