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Profile of Rupert Murdoch

Taken from the Andrew Neil book, Full Disclosure

Murdoch Character/Persona

When you work for Rupert Murdoch you do not work for a company chairman or chief executive: you work for a Sun King. You are not a director or a manager or an editor: you are a courtier at the court of the Sun King - rewarded with money and status by a grateful king as long as you serve his purpose, dismissed outright and demoted to a remote corner of the empire when you have ceased to please him or outlived your usefulness.

All life revolves around the Sun King: all authority comes from him. He is the only one to whom allegiance must be owed and he expects his remit to run everywhere, his word to be final. There are no other references but him. He is the only benchmark and anybody of importance reports direct to him. Normal management structures - all the traditional lines of authority, communicating and decision taking in the modern Business Corporation - do not matter. The Sun King is all that matters.

The Sun King is everywhere even when he is nowhere. He rules over great distances through authority, loyalty, example and fear. He can be benign or ruthless, depending on his mood or the requirements of his empire. You never know which: the element of surprise is part of the means by which he makes his presence felt in every corner of his domain. He may intervene in matters great or small: you never know when or where, which is what keeps you on your toes and the King is constantly on your mind. "I wonder how the King is today?" is the first question that springs to a good courtier's mind when he wakes up everyday.

Even when the Sun King has not expressed an interest or shown any desire to become involved, or you think his attention is absorbed in another part of his vast empire, such is his omnipresence that you strive to keep in mind whatever you think his wishes are. The knack of second-guessing the Sun King is essential for the successful courtier: anticipation of his attitudes is the courts biggest industry. It is fatal ever to make the mistake of taking him for granted.

All Sun Kings have a weakness for courtiers who are fawning or obsequious. But the wisest - among whom we must number Murdoch - know they also need courtiers with brains, originality and a free spirit, especially in the creative media business. But the independence has its limits: Sun Kings are also control freaks - and they are used to getting their way.

He is a republican who, in private, leaves you with no doubt that he would sweep the Royal Family away tomorrow if he had the chance: he regards them as the apex of a class system that has held Britain back - and slighted him on numerous occasions. He is enthusiastic about proposals to replace the Queen as head of state in Australia with a president.

He believes that the future is in television.

His control is subtle.

He is too smart too ignore.

His competition has had to learn the hard way that he is one of the smartest men in business with a restless, ruthless brain that is more than a match for any British competition. With a mind that is always buzzing, always up on the issues and always original.

Political gossip is Rupert's stock-in-trade - give him some and he will go away happy.

Rupert is a highly political animal.

Business and politics are his only two passions: art, music, hobbies, poetry, theatre, fiction, even sport (sailing may be an exception) have no interest for him. He is fascinated by the politics for its own sake - but also because politics affects the business environment in which he operates.

Rupert expects his papers to stand broadly for what he believes: a combination of right-wing Republicanism from America with undiluted Thatcherism from Britain and stirred with some anti-British establishment sentiments as befits his colonial heritage. The resulting potage is a radical-right dose of free market economics, the social agenda of the Christian Moral Majority and hard-line conservative views on subjects like drugs, abortion, law and order and defence.

He is much more right wing than is generally thought, but will curb is ideology for commercial reasons.

One time when we (Andrew and Rupert) were talking about the need for the radical reform of welfare, I remarked that we still had to make sure there was a basic provision - a safety net - for everybody. "Yeah, yeah, maybe" he growled, "but it should be very low".

He loathes Bill Clinton.

He was determined to stop Chris Patten ever becoming Prime Minister: he thinks him too "wet" and bears a grudge against the Hong Kong governors tough line with Beijing, which had not been good for Rupert's business in China, where his Hong Kong based Star Satellite - TV service was trying to gain a foothold.

"It may be just my wallet talking," he said to me in 1993 (AN), "but I think Patten is making a hash of it. He's trying to make a name for himself back in Britain; but he's a lightweight who is screwing everything up".

Where political principle and business expediency clash, you can be pretty sure expediency will win. When his business interests force him into an expedient solution which goes against his political gain, a convoluted thought process then takes place to justify his position.

Yet Rupert has cosied up to China, another evil communist empire in the nineties.

There is no mystery why Rupert has changed his tune: he will always moderate his political fundamentalism if it suits his business strategy. He had no business interests in the Soviet Union in the eighties; he is selling satellite TV to the Chinese in the nineties.

Gus Fischer, a fellow senior employee of Murdoch's, says of him "I have never seen anybody more astute at manipulating politicians to his advantage than Rupert".

But he had a quiet, remorseless, sometimes threatening way of laying down the parameters within which you were expected to operate. Editors whose sole purpose is survival have to become adept at reading Rupert Murdoch: stray too far too often from his general outlook and you will be looking for a new job. It can be strangely oppresive, even when you agree with him: the man is never far from your mind. Rupert dominates the lives of all his senior executives.

Despite his privileged upper-middle-class background he sees himself as a anti-Establishment man of the people (which he once wincingly described on BBC TV's Wogan show as the common people) and believes his tabloids speak for their concerns, even though he has never had any real contact with Britain's "common people" and mingles largely with establishment types when he is in Britain.

As his empire in America has expanded he has grown out of touch with Britain.

The popular hatred for the poll tax, for example, remained a mystery to him.

Though it would grieve him to think so he has become an old fashioned Times proprietor of the type he used to sneer at, keeping the paper going at a loss for years because of the power and prestige it brings its owner.

Kelvin Mackenzie of the Sun endured almost "daily bollockings". From the man he always referred to as - the boss - a steady stream of transatlantic vituperation and four letter words was his regular diet for over 12 years, even though he ran a paper which netted his proprietor 70-90 million a year. "It treats the tabloid editors like dirt", confirms John Dux, who was managing director at Wapping in the early nineties. "Kelvin used to go into great depressions after Rupert's onslaughts. When you run the most successful tabloid in the World it is not nice being regularly told you are a fucking idiot by your proprietor".

The abuse did not get better with time. A depressed Kelvin called me in February 1992. "I have just had the worst ever four letter tongue lashing from Rupert," he informed me. "I came very close to resigning last night. I have told Gus Fischer that I can't take anymore from that Australian bastard". (Kelvin did quit) It took several days to talk Kelvin round to returning, with Rupert even promising, "I'll change."

Rupert got his way and treated Kelvin with more respect after that. But things were never quite the same again: the whipping boy had finally stood up to the boss - and the boss was unsettled by it. Kelvin was soon moved from his beloved Sun to Sky Television early in 1994.

Kelvin was not the only one to experience "bollocking". Patsy Chapman suffered a nervous breakdown from the pressure and had to resign when she was the editor of the News of the World.

There was an element of the bully in this: Rupert ranted at Kelvin and others because he knew he could get away with it - they were prepared to put up with it.

There is a Jekyll and Hide quality to Rupert Murdoch.

I grew to resent that one man could have so much effect on me. (AN)

For Rupert everything in life is competition.

For a Sun King, his immediate entourage is very small. There is no kitchen cabinet that follows him around the world: he travels alone; but then he is a loner.

He does not allow himself to become intimate with anybody else for he never knows when he will have to turn on them: it is always more painful to sack your best friend, whereas courtiers are disposable.

He has built his empire by using people then discarding them when they have passed their sell by date. It is not the sort of management style, which lends itself to lasting friendships.

"The management style of News Corporation is one of extreme devolution punctuated by periods of episodic autocracy. Most company boards meet to take decisions. Ours meets to ratify Rupert's. For much of the time, you don't hear from Rupert. Then, all of a sudden, he descends like a thunderbolt from hell to slash and burn all before him. Since nobody is ever sure when the next autocratic intervention will take place (or on what subject), they live in fear of it and try to second guess what he would want, even in the most un-important of matters. It is a clever way of keeping his executives off balance: they live in perpetual state of insecurity. Everybody in the company is obsessed with him, he is the main topic of conversation, even among executives who have not heard from him for months; everybody is desperate for any titbit of information about him, especially if it sheds light on what his latest thoughts and movements are."
(Richard Searby - Murdoch's Australian chairman)

"Calculated Terror" is how one of his most senior associates best describes Rupert's management style.

But it also has its drawbacks: senior managers are easily demoralised and undermined by Rupert's cavalier behaviour, which encourages sometimes irrational and unpredictable decisions.

Nobody in the company other than Rupert knows the whole picture.

He relishes keeping even his most senior executives in the dark: a divide and rule approach, which leaves them all feeling vulnerable. This makes for weak management - but then Rupert is surrounded by weak managers. Those who behave otherwise do not last long.

One of my duller chores as editor was to attend the monthly Wapping management meeting. This was supposed to be a gathering of top Murdoch executives where problems would be resolved and policies agreed. But the meetings were a complete waste of time: no decision of any importance was ever taken unless Rupert was present.

It is not just managers Rupert regards as second class citizens. He has little time for shareholders or board directors. Shareholders are a potential threat to his control of a global company that he has built from scratch. He recognises their interests only with reluctance. His view is that News Corporation shareholders should have no interest in current earning or dividends; they should leave it to him to build long term capital values - and anybody that buys the company's shares should realise this. His boards are full of placemen who will do his bidding; he rarely consults them and only nominally seeks their approval. Gus Fischer told me of the time Rupert called to say he had just spent $550 million dollars for 64% of the Asian Star satellite system. "Could you call a couple of the directors and tell them?" asked Rupert. "He had not bothered to seek board approval," says Gus, amazed to this day.

The Murdoch family holding in News Corporation is down to only 30%; he once told me he would be nervous if it fell below 40%; but he still runs it as his personal fiefdom. As long as he delivers, non-family shareholders, which now include important financial institutions, will remain quiet.

Those who survive longest at the court of the Sun King are a group of unthreatening Australians who have been with him for years. They are the consummate "yes" men. They are regularly supplemented by more talented folk whom Rupert hires temporarily for specific jobs he needs done. They might not last long and Rupert invariably falls out with them at some stage; but they serve their purpose at the time.

If there is a structure at all it is a circle of courtiers, with the Sun King sitting at the centre. This allows him to intervene anywhere at will, facilitating his over-weening presence. Though he cannot be everywhere all the time, he is in a mysterious way ubiquitous.

His restless energy makes him prone to micro-management. When I (AN) once complained about the food in the Wapping canteen he spent part of a week sorting it out; another time he wanted to be involved in the deployment of various secretaries on the executive floor. The flaw in all this is that Rupert is actually not a very good manager; he does not have the patience for it.

It suits his short attention span. It makes him one of the worlds greatest business predators. But these very qualities make him an erratic manager. "In fact, Rupert is a lousy manager", says Gus Fischer. "He terrorises them under him when he makes one of his flying visits he takes to restore their morale. He provides no leadership to inspire. He wants to take all the decisions himself - so he won't delegate power. He wouldn't even agree who should report to me. He prefers the tension between executives which his episodic intervention creates."

John Dux agrees. "Rupert is the world's worst manager."

Wapping

He was brutal with them (Rupert's managers); so they were brutal in turn with their underlings. This method of management filtered all the way down to a group of middle managers who made life miserable for the shop floor.

"I realised then," says Bruce Matthews, "that Rupert was going to renege on the arrangement"

"The whole place was a shambles," says Gus Fischer

There were continuing production problems and Wapping could hardly be described as a happy place.

Rubert realised it would be expedient to create a better working environment before a Labour government more sympathetic to the demands for union recognition came into power.

One reason why Wapping was soured was that Rupert never trusted anybody else to run it: nobody ever met his expectations, and if they looked liked doing so, his expectations changed.

Rupert does not allow past favours to accumulate in his favour bank.

"I think he is happiest," says Gus Fischer ruefully, "when he has someone in London who will call him on everything, even if it is just to go to the bathroom."

News Corp

Andrew Knight's experience underlines a fundamental weakness of News Corporation. Outside of Rupert, there is no real management. During the eleven years I was editor, (AN) Rupert fired or eased out every chief executive of real talent or independent mind set. As a result, there is no historic memory at the top, and the organisation has poor mechanisms from promoting within. There are no serious annual reviews of staff performance, no process whereby talented people can move around from one part of the media empire to another - unless it is on Rupert's whim - and little thought given to providing people with a career within the organisation. The talented either leave of their own violation or are fired.

When Rupert dies, there will be no management team in place ready to fill the breach and few managers with any real experience of taking important decisions.

"You don't understand, he's battling on too many fronts these days. Expanding his television interests in America and Asia. Trying to break into satellite TV in the US. Spending massively on expensive Hollywood movies. Fighting a costly newspaper war in England. And still acquiring new assets. The markets are nervous about the insatiable demand for capital these projects will require of his company - and his never ending expansionism is making him lots of enemies. Your book came at a highly sensitive time. It confirmed investors fears about how News Corporation is a one man band - and explained how that one man can't help acquiring and accumulating, whatever the cost." (AN's source at the court of the Sun King)

"Monopolies are a terrible thing - unless you have one"
Rupert Murdoch

I do not believe that there was an explicit deal between Murdoch and Blair in which the Sun gave its support in return for promises that a Labour government would leave Rupert's British media empire alone. But there was an implicit understanding, never openly talked about between the two men but an understanding nethertheless. Blair once said to me "how we treat Rupert Murdoch's media interests when in power will depend on how his newspapers treat the Labour party in the run up to the election."
(AN)

In Australia he has a track record of embracing politicians who can further his business interests - then dumping them when circumstances change or they have served his purpose.

When Sky emerged as one the most profitable TV ventures in the world.

His vision is to make and own every form of television - news, sport, films, entertainment, children's TV - and then to beam them to Britain, America and Asia via distribution systems he also owns and controls.

News Corp today looks a little like the Roman Empire circa AD350 - Still imperial but fraying at the edges, full of intrigue and perhaps in danger of decline.
Former Murdoch insider

Nor has Rupert succeeded in transferring the big audiences he won by buying the expensive rights to Sunday afternoon American football to his Sunday evening schedules.

Everything else Rupert tried bombed: costly game shows, sitcoms and action adventure movies.

The fourth Fox president to bite the dust in seven years. One more Murdoch flavour of the month had bitten the dust.

He recently tried to sell a News Corp debt offering securitised BskyB shares.

When Rupert dies, News Corporation as we have known it almost certainly dies too. Some of its biggest investors are already beginning to think that way.

In 1990 the debt he had accumulated almost brought the company crashing down.

In recent years investors have had neither decent dividends or capital growth. Some are beginning to think that they will only ever realise News Corp's true value by unbundling - selling off - its constituent parts. But News Corp will never be unbundled while ever Rupert is alive. There must be something strangely disconcerting about knowing that those who have invested in you are waiting for you to die to make real money out of you. But perhaps it does not bother him: Rupert after all, has never been sentimental about business.

Rupert is also a man often guided by gut instinct: logic may have told him it was foolhardy to make Andrew Neil the editor of his most prestigious broadsheet, but the gambler in him said it was a risk worth taking.

Despite his ruthless reputation, Rupert has little stomach for the sacking of senior executives.

I knew he was an interventionist proprietor who expected to get his way.

Like everybody else in Fleet Street I had heard numerous "Dirty Digger" stories about the ruthless Australian proprietor who hired his editors to his bidding, fired them when they didn't (and sometimes when they did!), who could be charming and supportive one minute and tyrannical the next.

Rupert Murdoch is an impatient man: when he has decided on a course of action he wants it to happen yesterday, or the day before.

The Post was a ruse: it was never meant to happen.

The Post was a cover story.

Bruce Matthews watched the emergence of Murdoch the Militant with apprehension. Bruce was all for driving the toughest of bargains but Rupert did not want a bargain at all - short of outright union surrender. "Our master is becoming uncontrollable," said Bruce to me one day in November. We started referring to Rupert as Rambo.

My worry was different: I had become concerned that print-union tyranny was being replaced by macho-management. A gung-ho attitude was taking root.

We talked about the first election: he wanted to be assured that Thatcher would win, which I was able to do. But when we turned to Sky Channel it was clear he had no great plans for its expansion and therefore not much need for our services. He had taken a stake in it to keep his options open, something I was to discover was a typically Murdoch technique: nothing might come of it, or it might be the basis one day of a huge TV empire. But he did not want to pour much new investment into it for the moment. "I've already developed a reputation for taking too many risks," he confided, "I don't want to build on that for the moment."

On many matters Rupert was well to the right of me politically. He was a monetarist: I was not. Nor did I share his conservative social outlook.

He talked about how his Fox TV network had concluded a multi-million deal to secure the rights to live games in the National Football league (NFL) on a Sunday. Many folk thought he had paid too much to steal the NFL from CBS, which had broadcast games for years, but he regarded the Sunday afternoon rights to American football, the country's most popular spectator sport, as an essential part of his ambition to turn Fox into a fully fledged network.

Sir Matt will be turning in his grave knowing that the club was being sold in this manner. To a buyer who does not, and has no intention of wanting to know, the beautiful history of our great club, the passion of its loyal and devoted supporters and the meaning of Manchester United to this community.

The man must be stopped !!

Keep fighting the cause !!


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