Institutions Force BSkyB to Launch Headhunt for CEO Role

30 September 2003

If James Murdoch finally makes it into the ceo’s suite at UK satellite giant BSkyB, it could be due to his business brilliance and leadership skills rather than his filial relationship with News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch.

Following last week’s face-off with a number of major institutional shareholders, the board of BSkyB has appointed Spencer Stuart, a Chicago-headquartered international search firm to produce a shortlist of US and UK candidates. It is not known if James is by default a shortlistee.

A banker said to be 'close to BSkyB', confided to the UK Sunday Telegraph: " This is bad news for Rupert. He'd been hoping that James would have been appointed by now or at the very latest by the time of the annual meeting [in November]. Even if James eventually gets the job, and that's by no means certain, it isn't going to be that quick."

Furthermore, a Sky boardroom blabbermouth revealed to the newspaper that "BSkyB's independent directors are refusing to buckle in the face of pressure from Murdoch. The situation is explosive."

It is understood that Sky will also consider two internal candidates for the job: chief operating officer Richard Freudenstein and finance director Martin Stewart.

Among the eleven major shareholders said to have opposed the appointment of Murdoch minor are Barclays Global Investors, Legal & General, Standard Life and Deutsche Asset Management. Last week they made it abundantly plain they would not stand for the familial shoehorn.

Reported a fund manager present at the meeting: "I have rarely witnessed such City concern about any issue. This is not Murdoch's company and he can't do what he likes with it."

The Telegraph also reported fading confidence in Murdoch's patrician go-between, the urbane former Conservative arts minister Lord Norman St John Stevas of Fawsley.

Complained one critic: "He's been on the Sky board since 1991, which is much longer than best practice allows. I'm waiting to see if he really has the backbone to face down Murdoch."

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff