Media Bigwigs Wish Rupert Murdoch a Happy 80th Birthday
As News Corp.’s chairman and chief executive celebrates Friday, the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine solicited memories and good wishes from his employees, colleagues and even the occasional frenemy.
CEO, Turner Enterprises
“I met with Rupert a couple of years ago for lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill in New york to bury the hatchet and congratulate him on implementing green initiatives with his businesses. We both realized we have gotten a lot older since those early days of feuding and decided it was time to move on. I’m glad to put all of that to rest.”
Former executive VP, News Corp.
“The first clue to the type of boss Rupert Murdoch would become came the moment I met him. Sitting in the spare reception area of News Corp. in September 1998, waiting to be interviewed by a man I knew only by his fearsome reputation, I was stirred to my feet by a whir of anxious energy.
I can still see the brown door swing violently open and the thin outstretched arm of Rupert Murdoch emerge with a simple “Hi, Rupert Murdoch, sorry to keep you waiting.” No assistant, no pretension ... just an unassuming guy who himself came out to greet me, who himself offered to get me coffee and who apologized for keeping me waiting, even though he hadn’t.
“Graciousness” is not the first word many of my progressive friends would have ascribed to Rupert, but what most of Rupert’s detractors miss is this: One reason he has been so successful in business is actually because he is such a decent, unpretentious man, not in spite of it. He can, of course, be aggressive and unsentimental in his business dealings, and his determination to win is unmatched. But one of his secret weapons is that people enjoy working for him, like being around him and will work tirelessly to support him. That he’s been able to keep a cadre of immensely competent executives around him — some for as long as 50 years — is testament to his loyalty. And his Australian roots have ingrained in him an egalitarianism and curiosity that allows even an agitating Democrat like me to be made welcome in his inner sanctum and be heard. Of course, there were limits to how far I could push what he often dismissed as my “communist” agenda. I always knew when I had gone too far when, with the flick of his left hand, he would abruptly end the conversation with the pithy “piss off.” But the next day we’d be back at it, no hard feelings.”
Former Viacom Entertainment Group Chairman, former president of Fox, inc.
“I think that if you work for Rupert, what you find is that he was a man possessed of a huge enthusiasm and appetite for his businesses that was in some respects refreshing and in some respects tough because he kept on setting your bars higher for you. But in a world in which there is an awful lot of dispassion and corporate management, the idea of an owner who loves his business, has an appetite and enthusiasm for it and is willing to break rules in an effort to become successful can make for a very exhilarating ride.”
Former CEO, Star India
“Murdoch is a hard task master, but he rewarded you well. I was petrified when we first met. I prepared this presentation for him on India, which was about 25 pages. He flipped through the whole thing in about five seconds, looked me in the eye and said, “How many villages are there in India?” I had no clue because my presentation was more about the economy, the state of the Indian currency, the media environment and so on. So I just took a complete shot in the dark and said, “In excess of 500,000.” He said, “What will it take to get television into each of them?” I was stumped and said, “Most of those villages don’t have electricity.” He said, “Maybe we can get them a generator set.” That was Murdoch — thinking miles ahead of anybody.”
“The life-changing moment for [local broadcaster] KBC was at a presentation where we were told Murdoch was going ahead with the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. At that point, the Indian version was going to be called KBL — Kaun Banega Lakhpati — (Lakh meaning 100,000 in Hindi instead of Crore, which means 10 million). He looked at me and didn’t understand what Lakhpati meant so I told him that it denoted someone who won Rupees 100,000, or about $2,000. He said “That’s bullshit. We are talking about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and you are fiddling about with $2,000?” But we were governed by a tight budget — it was all very well for Murdoch to say that the amount was small since he was used to big Hollywood numbers!
He asked, “What’s the next big number in India?” So I said a Crore, which is about $250,000. So he said, “Lets go with that — it’s better than your measly $2,000.” It is funny now, but at that time I was thinking, ‘Where am I going to get the budget for this?’ It’s all very well for Rupert to say this and get on his plane and fly to L.A.
We went along with it and the rest is history. That was a life-changing moment which could only be done by this man called Rupert Murdoch. No executive in the company could have made that decision. He is not just an exec but also a proprietor who can make a decision like this without getting lost in cost analysis. This man worked off the seat of his pants, a complete gambler. For Rupert, if something wasn’t difficult or tough, then it wasn’t worth doing. If it was easy, then forget it.”