21st Century Fox Promotes James Murdoch to Co-COO, Names Lachlan Murdoch Non-Executive Co-Chairman

Lachlan Murdoch James Murdoch - H 2014
AP Images

Lachlan Murdoch James Murdoch - H 2014

UPDATED: The conglomerate elevates the two sons of founder Rupert Murdoch, with president Chase Carey expected to get a contract extension shortly.

21st Century Fox on Wednesday elevated Lachlan Murdoch, 42, to the role of non-executive co-chairman and promoted James Murdoch, 41, to the post of co-COO.

The announcement, which plays into the succession planning of the company, was made jointly by Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO, and Chase Carey, president and COO. One observer said that the elevations look designed to make Lachlan Murdoch chairman one day, with James Murdoch likely to oversee day-to-day operations as CEO down the line.

James Murdoch has so far served as deputy COO, chairman and CEO of international and a board member, with Lachlan serving only as a board member. Under the rejiggered leadership structure, Fox Networks Group, led by Peter Rice, will now report directly to James Murdoch. Rice has agreed to a contract extension, the company also announced on Wednesday.

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The changes -- the timing of which came as a surprise to observers -- means that the two Murdoch sons are in strengthened positions to potentially succeed their father at the top of the entertainment conglomerate one day. 

Lachlan Murdoch, who had already been a regular board member at 21st Century Fox and News Corp, was also named non-executive chairman of the latter. He stepped down as chairman of Australia's Ten Network on Wednesday, which he had to do under Australian regulatory rules given his elevation at his father's conglomerates.

‎A company spokesman said Carey is expected to stay at the company, which suggests that the latest announcement is more of an incremental step of succession planning. Carey's current contract ends midyear.

"We are in the process of finalizing Chase’s extended employment agreement and are confident it will be completed shortly," the spokesman said.

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The Murdoch empire last year split into entertainment company Fox and publishing firm News Corp.

Rupert Murdoch said in a statement Wednesday: "Lachlan is a strategic and talented executive with a rich knowledge of our businesses. From 1994 to 2007, Lachlan’s executive career at the company spanned the globe, culminating as deputy chief operating officer responsible for the group’s most important publishing businesses in addition to its vast U.S. television station holdings. I’m very pleased he is returning to a leadership role at the company, where he will work closely with me, Chase, James, and the rest of the board of directors to drive continued growth for years to come."

According to 21st Century Fox, as non-executive co-chairman, Lachlan Murdoch will work with senior management and the rest of the board in developing global strategies and guiding the overall corporate agenda. He will divide his time between Sydney and New York. In 2005, he dropped his executive title of deputy COO at what was then News Corp. He has since focused on his board role, which doesn't involve day-to-day management work.

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Discussing James Murdoch's elevated role, Rupert Murdoch said: “We are pleased to elevate James into this important role alongside my partner and trusted advisor Chase Carey. I’m confident James and Chase will continue to make a great team during this time of immense opportunity. James has done an outstanding job driving our global television businesses and our shareholders, customers, and colleagues will benefit greatly from his many talents. This company has never been better positioned to capitalize on the increased global demand for quality storytelling and news, and our collective future has never been brighter.”

Explaining the role further, 21st Century Fox said James Murdoch will partner with Chase Carey to set the strategic direction across the company's global business portfolio. In this capacity, he will have direct responsibility for Fox Networks Group, which will now report to him. He will also continue to manage the strategic and operational development of the company's owned and controlled interests in such pay TV services as Britain's BSkyB and India's Star.

James Murdoch will continue to report to Carey. 

Carey said: “James has been a great partner, and in many ways this appointment formalizes the role he’s been playing for some time and acknowledges the contribution he has made in driving our businesses to new heights. Over the course of his 17 years with the company, James has played a key leadership role in almost all of our major television businesses, from Mumbai to Munich to London and most recently the U.S. James has a keen sense of international markets, digital platforms -- as well as programming -- and he brings a modern sensibility to our business which has greatly benefited the company and our shareholders.”