Murdoch Minor Launches Investor Charm Offensive

06 November 2003

Fresh into day one of his controversial appointment as chief executive of Europe's largest pay-TV broadcaster BSkyB, James Murdoch on Tuesday launched an offensive to win the hearts and minds of the hostile natives.

Both at BSkyB and within the environs of London's financial district the locals were poised in spear-hurling mode.

Internal criticism, for obvious reasons, remains non-public, but senior management and BSkyB's 8,000 employees are said to be fearful that James has arrived with a restructuring brief from his father. But in the undergrowth of London EC2, the denizens were less restrained.

"We wish James Murdoch every success but are aware that he and his father [Rupert, chairman both of BSkyB and its controlling shareholder, New York-based News Corporation] will be subject to the most intense scrutiny in view of the obvious conflicts and tensions which may arise," growled the National Association of Pension Funds, one of the UK's leading investor groups.

Other major institutional shareholders, among them Standard Life and Barclays Global Investors, also expressed public dismay at the appointment.

Murdoch minor intends first to meet and second to confound his critics. Without pause to sample the upholstered delights of the BSkyB hotseat, he was stomping the City's marble halls in a charm blitzkrieg. "One of the first things I'm doing is trying to meet with a number of our shareholders and start a dialogue and listen to their concerns," he told the Financial Times.

"My job, in addition to rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck in and working with the management team, is going to be about communicating with shareholders," he avers. "We believe that the core business in the company's home markets have a lot of growth in them."

He also attempted to assuage the fears of BSkyB staff and management. "There are places and times when you really batten down the hatches. At Star TV [where he was previously ceo] we restructured the entire technology operations and prepared ourselves to be as lean as we could possibly be," he said.

One of his first tasks is to determine BSkyB's sales and volume targets. "I'm going to be talking to as much of the team as I can as fast as possible. You are going to judge me in time on the results."

The objective of outgoing ceo Tony Ball was to secure eight million subscribers then focus on upgrading them to premium services. But Murdoch père is said to favour continued volume growth, aiming for around 12 million customers in the medium term. Murdoch minor declined to say in which direction he would lean.

And to investors he promised that dividends will not be compromised by other cash demands. "The important thing from my perspective is to get cracking, I cannot emphasise to you enough that we're listening," he assured. "It's a public company and a high-profile company. How am I going to handle the pressure? I will deal with it."

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff