family succession

What Fox’s Sky takeover suggests about the succession saga in the Murdoch family

The bid to take full control of the network has prompted the question: who is behind the wheel?

The Murdoch family’s sale of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets to Walt Disney raised a lot of eyebrows when it was announced last year. And now the company is clear to take over Sky (pending the sale of Sky News) it seems that one of the world’s most successful family businesses is back in the fast lane – but who is behind the wheel?

For years, speculation was rife over who would succeed Rupert Murdoch. The role of leader was being fought over by his two oldest sons, Lachlan and James. The two Murdoch heirs have been swarming all over senior posts at both News Corp and 21st Century Fox for years.

This led the Murdoch empire to become split between two separately listed companies – 21st Century Fox led by James and News Corp led by Lachlan.

In June 2015, Rupert announced he would be leaving his position as CEO of 21st Century Fox and that James would take over. By this point James had been gaining popularity among the Fox investor base for his leadership, deep knowledge of the company’s operations and his contribution to the company’s expansion in digital distribution. At that point, the impression was that James would have the primary role in running Fox.

Return of the prodigal son(s)

But Lachlan has always been seen as “daddy’s boy”. He left the family firm in 2005 to pursue his personal business interests. But after his return in 2015 as co-executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, he has been caricatured as the prodigal son. In fact, Lachlan will continue to run the remaining assets under the Murdoch’s family control, including Fox News as well as what remains of 21st Century Fox (which will be spun off into the new Fox company).

James, on the other hand, was initially thought to be continuing his career outside the family empire. It was thought he would play a role in the process of integrating operations between Disney and 21st Century Fox, possibly becoming the next CEO of Disney.

But his recent announcement suggests that he is motivated to continue the family dynasty and to enrich the Murdochs’ foothold in the emerging digital media business, even if this means starting up an entirely new business on his own. In light of this, the Sky deal may create new opportunities for James to return in the future of the Murdoch dynasty.

Rupert’s choice

The Disney deal of 2017 finally signalled that Murdoch Snr had made a choice between his sons. Arguably, he put his chips on Lachlan. But at the same time, this story demonstrates that family business is not just a matter of operational aspects, like succession planning. On the contrary, the Murdochs have shown that succession should be seen as a unique opportunity to renew a company’s strategic focus in order to lay the basis for a sustainable long-term future.

As my research into the strategies of long lasting family companies illustrates, strategic decisions in family companies are complicated because they are not only concerned about financial wealth, but also emphasise non-financial – or “socioemotional” – aspects. Things like preserving the family’s founding values and identity and ensuring the continuation of the family business across generations.

The problem is that financial and socioemotional wealth do not always go hand in hand. For example, in a study of all companies that went public in Europe from 1995 to 2011, I found that the financial benefits attainable through relinquishing family ownership and selling the business (or parts of it) come at the expense of some losses of socioemotional “wealth”. Such “losses” include: diluting family members’ power or weakening their identity within the family and the firm. Interestingly, the most successful family firms are those which are willing to accept some emotional losses in the short term in order to achieve both financial and non-financial gains in the future.

This is the key to understanding Rupert Murdoch’s decision to sell 21st Century Fox while appointing Lachlan as the next leader of the family business – two decisions that are remarkably aligned. On the one hand, after years of struggling to acquire 100% of Sky, the Murdoch family decided to relinquish its stake in the media entertainment industry. But, at the same time, this move was critical in obtaining the Sky deal – which will now enable the Murdochs to regain their position in media entertainment.

The fact that James has given up his leadership role in the family business shows that it is a price the family is clearly willing to pay in order to ensure the future of the dynasty. But he could still return as a next generation leader after a short period outside the empire.

Lessons for the budding dynasty

Succession planning is certainly important, but a comprehensive plan is virtually impossible. What really matters is to establish a strategic vision for how the succession will enable the regeneration of the family company’s competitive advantage.

The choice of a family business successor is certainly more complicated when there is more than one capable candidate. But rather than focusing on the choice, a better result can be achieved by designing the right leadership role for each successor.

Finally, family business leaders should make sure they have an overarching strategy in the first place. As the Murdoch family demonstrates, succession can be a unique opportunity for a family firm to redefine its strategic purpose, refocus its core business and perhaps even jettison some dead weight in order to fully realise the next generation’s full potential.

Josip Kotlar, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.