What fate awaits Rupert Murdoch favourites in the new Lachlan era?

<span>Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters

As the Murdoch empire wakes up to a new era, a coterie of Rupert favourites – from right-hand man Robert Thomson to UK boss Rebekah Brooks – will be contemplating their position as his eldest son takes the wheel.

While Rupert will still have power over critical decisions – through control of the family trust that owns most of the shares in News Corp and Fox – insiders say the media conglomerate will ultimately be shaped in Lachlan’s image.

One former senior executive said: “He oversees an old media company in a new media era. A lot of management reflects that, and he and they know it.

“His father built the business by being the boldest media baron in the world. Will Lachlan do the same, or play it safe? And who will he keep by his side to do it?”

Multiple sources have said they believe the handover also sets the stage for the passing of the baton of control over News Corporation, home to assets including the Sun, the Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Australian newspapers as well as the book publisher HarperCollins.

Robert Thomson.
Robert Thomson. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

For the last decade, News Corp has been run by Thomson, a 62-year-old Australian who shares the same birthday as Rupert, 92. Sources said Thomson has previously indicated he would leave when Rupert stepped back from the business. News Corp declined to comment.

Then there is Brooks, who one source described as “trusted, powerful and protected”. She has good relations with Lachlan as well as his brother and sisters, and is seen as an untouchable favourite.

When Rupert landed in the UK at the height of the phone-hacking scandal in 2011 and was asked by a reporter what his priority was, he said “this one” while gesturing and smiling at Brooks. She nevertheless still finds herself at an interesting juncture in her career.

It has long been thought that the 55-year-old has designs on the chief executive role at News Corp, although it would require a major lifestyle shift to accommodate significant time in New York.

“It is hard to know if she peaked under Rupert and whether, if she did want the chief executive role, the moment might have passed her by,” one source said. “She is of course capable, and I don’t know who else he would pick and she would be my bet, but it isn’t only the Rupert show any more.”

While Lachlan presents a united public front with his father, unlike his younger brother, James, who cut ties with the family firm in 2020, paving the way for his brother’s ascension, behind closed doors he has not always agreed with strategy decisions.

As Lachlan inevitably tightens his grip on decision-making he is likely to take a more ruthless view of holding on to old-school media assets, such as newspapers and cable TV, which his father loves.

“He doesn’t love newspapers like Rupert,” a former senior executive said of Lachlan. “He would never do something like prop up the loss-making Times newspaper for nigh on 40 years to get it to profitability. He is not going to keep marginal or loss-making businesses open forever. Someone is finally going to have to make a decision about them.”

Insiders said Lachlan opposed the decision to downsize the empire by selling 21st Century Fox’s global entertainment assets to Disney for $71bn (£63bn) six years ago, and is seeking to rebuild scale in an era of global tech and media giants.

“One of the biggest issues is Lachlan wants, and loves, scale,” said the former executive. “He wants a bigger company. A lot of the existing business is stable at best and he wants fast-growing, new-media-type businesses. It will be interesting to see if, or how, he can grab the business and who does it with him.”