James Murdoch Rising Son | Malcolm Knox | The Monthly
At Star Asia James was seen as a success, even though his attitudes were not so much analogue as pre-modern. His father introduced James to the Chinese hierarchy as a “personal full-time envoy” but, in a place where nepotism was seen as a bonus, he was understood to be there as the son. As Bruce Dover writes in his book, Rupert’s Adventures in China: How Murdoch Lost a Fortune and Found a Wife, the organisational chart of the Sun King, who had placed himself at the centre of concentric rings of power, was very appealing to the Chinese – as was the appointment of the prince to the head Asian position. “Murdoch’s dynastic tendencies of placing his children in key executive positions … were well accepted by a ruling elite for whom nepotism was a widely established practice.”
With his stepmother, Wendi Deng, James trawled China in the dotcom boom years, spending US$120–150 million on more than 20 new businesses. During this time, he was also a vigorous champion of Henry Yuen, the Shanghai-born, former CEO of Gemstar. While Star’s fortunes began to turn around – helped mainly by Indian advertising sales – the Chinese ventures progressively went bust. The dotcom assets, bought at boom-time prices, were off-loaded at a loss, while Gemstar turned into a multi-billion-dollar write-down.
The benefit of nepotism turns out to be twofold: it confers position and, more importantly, it reconfigures definitions of success. James’ three and a half years at Star have been effortlessly spun as proof of his acumen and the key to his assumption of ‘the real thing’ status.