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June 14, 2013 7:54 pm

The door marked exit in business and in life

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Rupert Murdoch©Getty

Hours after Rupert Murdoch filed to divorce Wendi Deng Murdoch, his wife since 1999, he announced the end of an even longer-standing relationship.

David Devoe, News Corp’s chief financial officer for 23 years, will retire after it splits into separate entertainment and publishing businesses on June 28, Mr Murdoch said, describing Mr Devoe as a “pivotal” member of his top team. Mr Devoe was a critical figure in structuring Mr Murdoch’s deals and has been credited with helping persuade him to divide his empire.

The timing of the 66-year-old’s retirement was coincidental, people close to News Corp said, but the two pieces of news illustrate how Mr Murdoch’s intertwined personal and business agendas drive events at the company.

At a group where Mr Murdoch’s family control 39.4 per cent of the votes and that family includes six children born between 1958 and 2003, speculation about succession is perennial. So, too, is speculation about who has Mr Murdoch’s ear.

After three marriages, changes in his children’s positions in the corporate pecking order and rotations in his collection of assets, Mr Murdoch has a reputation for falling in love with people and businesses and then going cold on them.

As Mr Devoe’s tenure illustrates, members of News Corp’s top team tend to be loyal. However, the company’s split and the UK newspaper scandals that preceded it have radically changed Mr Murdoch’s line-up of personal and professional advisers.

Two central figures had already left before phone hacking allegations at the News of the World erupted into a crisis in 2011. Peter Chernin stepped down as chief operating officer in 2009 after 13 years and Gary Ginsberg, who ran marketing and corporate affairs, left in 2010 after more than a decade.

As the phone hacking scandal bubbled in early 2011, Lon Jacobs stepped down unexpectedly as general counsel. When the crisis came to a head that July, it swept aside Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of the News International UK newspaper arm who is described by some former colleagues as a fifth Murdoch daughter. The same day, Mr Murdoch lost Les Hinton, whom he had moved from London to run Dow Jones after the 2007 acquisition.

Mr Hinton had worked for Mr Murdoch for 52 years, since he fetched him sandwiches as a 15-year-old copy boy at his first newspaper in Adelaide.

Months later, John Hartigan retired after 11 years running News Corp’s Australian media business, robbing him of another experienced newspaper executive.

News Corp’s board, a target of corporate governance campaigners, has also changed dramatically. Andrew Knight and Arthur Siskind, who became directors in 1991, are among those who have left.

As trusted advisers have left, however, new counsellors including Robert Thomson, Joel Klein and Gerson Zweifach now wield influence.

At an investor presentation in Australia this month, Mr Murdoch hailed Mr Thomson, chief executive of the new News Corp, as “a Melbourne boy like me”.

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He added: “On a personal level, there are few whose wisdom I have found to be as valuable and on point as Robert’s.”

Mr Thomson, who left the Financial Times in 2002 to edit The Times, has risen rapidly, becoming editor-in-chief of Dow Jones before his elevation to run the new public company that contains News Corp’s publishing and Australian media businesses.

Mr Klein, a former New York City schools chancellor, has convinced Mr Murdoch of the potential to use technology to reform education. News Corp spent $360m on a digital education company called Wireless Generation, and has pledged to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Mr Klein’s education division, Amplify.

“[Education] is not going to be disrupted for a digital revolution unless you’re willing to put in the resources,” Mr Klein told Australian investors.

Mr Zweifach, general counsel since 2012, is steering its response to investigations into the UK newspaper scandal.

He will be general counsel of both companies after they separate, and this week was on stage with Mr Murdoch and Mr Devoe as shareholders voted on the split, dismissing a report that the company was negotiating a settlement with the US Department of Justice.

Some of Mr Murdoch’s most senior executives have not moved, notably Chase Carey, the well-regarded chief operating officer of the old News Corp and the new 21st century Fox.

Mr Murdoch’s second daughter, Liz, turned down a board seat in 2011, but Mr Murdoch reminded Australian investors of the other constant in his personal and corporate life. News Corp, he said, “retains the Aussie spirit of a family company”.

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