A formal announcement will come “in the near future,” CNBC’s David Faber reports this morning citing “numerous sources close to the Murdoch family.” Rupert Murdoch, 84, would turn the CEO job at 21st Century Fox over to James, 42. He would work with his father and brother Lachlan who would both be Executive co-Chairmen.
COO Chase Carey would step down but continue to serve as an advisor. His current contract runs to mid-2016, but has a provision that enables him to leave at the end of 2015 if he gives notice by July 1, according to the latest Fox proxy. He still would have to offer “non-exclusive consulting services” to Fox through mid-2016, with a non-compete clause. He would have been entitled to about $60.8 million in compensation at the end of the last fiscal year if he resigned on good terms.
Fox isn’t commenting on the report, but says that succession “is on the agenda at our upcoming, regularly scheduled board meeting.” The company’s fiscal year runs to the end of this month. Fox shares are down slightly on the news.
As a practical matter, the change suggests continuity at the media and entertainment giant. Rupert will still control the company through the family trust that owns 39.4% of the voting shares. It would have been a shock if James had not been promoted: Last year he was promoted to co-COO, making him the heir apparent, as he moved to New York from London. Lachlan, who was believed to have little taste to run the Fox empire on a day-to-day basis, was named non-Executive Co-Chair.
Following the changes, Rupert told Fortune that he’s “going to be here for a long time. And so will [Fox COO] Chase Carey and [News Corp CEO] Robert Thomson.” Lachlan left his job as deputy COO of News Corp in 2005 after skirmishing with other execs. Rupert intensified his effort to bring Lachlan back into the fold after a private meeting with James at the 2013 Allen & Co confab in Sun Valley. “We had two or three hours together. Lachlan was not, not going to come back. It was a question of how we would work together.”
James’ rise is remarkable, though, after his reputation took a shellacking in the UK News of the World hacking scandal. Parliament’s Culture Media and Sport Committee said in a 2012 report that it found no definitive evidence that he was aware of the law breaking during his tenure running News Corp’s UK press arm, News International. Still, it was “astonished” that he did not seek to more evidence for his decision to pay $1 million to settle some hacking-related charges.
Rupert said that James was “not in the least” tarnished by his handling of the affair. “He’s been praised…told the truth all the way.”
Since his promotion last year, James has courted Wall Street — and largely impressed investors with his broad knowledge of the business, and commitment to long term growth. He supported Fox’s investments in Hulu and other digital platforms. He also believes Fox’s global TV and movie distribution assets give it an important edge over its rivals.
During his tenure in the UK “he was known to have a very strong temper,” says Claire Enders, owner of Enders Analysis. “Those personality traits have been altered. He has definitely come across as someone who is a changed man to people who have known him for many years.”
Contributing: Nancy Tartaglione