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Rupert Murdoch expected to stay active in Fox corporate affairs

Rupert Murdoch plans to relinquish his CEO title, but that won't diminish his involvement in Fox's affairs

Rupert Murdoch has hobnobbed with newspaper editors, wolfed down sausages at a Berlin sporting event, scolded politicians on Twitter, entertained Hollywood producers at his vineyard in Bel-Air and polished his plan to reinforce the Murdoch family dynasty.

Just another month in and around the office for the 84-year-old mogul.

Murdoch plans next week to ask the board of 21st Century Fox to install his younger son, James, as chief executive — the job the elder Murdoch has held since his media company was incorporated in 1979. Murdoch also is intent on positioning his older son, Lachlan, in an operational role as Fox's executive co-chairman, working in collaboration with him and James.

Although the elder Murdoch plans to relinquish his CEO title, that won't diminish his involvement in corporate affairs, according to people who have worked with him.

"Rupert will do what he's always done, dream something up and go out and talk to 400 people about it, although now he will take James or Lachlan with him," said one associate who was not authorized to discuss Fox's internal moves. "This will go on until he is 98 and decides to sit down and watch the grapes grow."

Murdoch plans to retain his position as executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, his $31-billion-a-year-in-revenue company that boasts such channels as Fox Broadcasting, FX, National Geographic and the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

"I'm sure Rupert will not be shy about keeping his fingerprints on the company," Christopher Marangi, portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds, which holds Fox shares, said this week.

Murdoch has long maintained a desire to turn over to his children the empire he built from a single Australian newspaper inherited when his father died in 1952. The changing of the guard would represent a third generation of Murdoch family-controlled media.

Murdoch himself has shown few signs of slowing down. He bounces from his primary offices in New York to Fox's movie and TV lot on West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, making occasional trips to Australia and Europe. He traveled to Germany last weekend with Fox Sports executives for the Champions League soccer final in Berlin. People who work with him note that Murdoch's mother, who was a philanthropist in the family's native Australia, lived to 103.

"He has the same level of drive that he has always had," said producer Brian Grazer, who attended a recent dinner at Murdoch's vineyard in L.A.

Grazer serves as executive producer of two Fox hits, this season's soapy "Empire" and the long-running espionage drama "24." Other guests at the dinner were said to include actress Anjelica Huston and Peter Rice, chief executive of Fox Networks Group.

Murdoch is "always interested in what's going on in the world, and he is very dialed in to pop culture," Grazer said.

Murdoch has also been able to steer his companies beyond the British phone hacking scandal of four years ago, in which News Corp. journalists intercepted cellphone messages left for British celebrities, sports stars and even members of the royal family.

Jeffrey Cole, chief executive of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg School, said Murdoch has seemed determined to accomplish two goals since the scandal: protect his family and safeguard his beloved newspapers. Investors called on Murdoch to sell the newspapers, which have struggled with declining revenue.

But Murdoch resisted, in part, because he loves the newspapers — and the political power they bring. He also sees continued financial value in publishing.

"My sense is that Murdoch carved his empire into two companies to protect his newspapers," Cole said. "Rupert's favorite thing is to wake up, read his newspapers and then call his editors and scream at them. He protected his newspapers better than other publishing companies."

For now, Murdoch has no plans to make executive changes at News Corp., the publishing company that includes the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, HarperCollins book publishing house and other properties. He plans to remain executive chairman. Former Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson has served as chief executive since the company was formed two years ago and Lachlan Murdoch, 43, is expected to remain co-chairman.

In fact, Fox's and News Corp.'s corporate headquarters in midtown Manhattan was designed to enable Murdoch to move quickly among his favorite businesses. Fox's and News Corp.'s corporate suites share the eighth floor of the office tower, with the Wall Street Journal newsroom occupying several floors below that and the New York Post positioned in the two floors above. Elsewhere in the building are the operations of Fox News Channel.

Analysts now are waiting to learn the details of Murdoch's succession plans. Key among them are the length and level of involvement of Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey, who is expected to step out of the management ranks to serve as an advisor until next summer. Carey is well respected on Wall Street and has provided investors with a measure of comfort that someone other than a Murdoch was running the company — particularly during a turbulent period.

Wall Street appears willing to give the Murdochs a chance to fly solo. Fox shares closed down 21 cents to $32.69 on Friday. The Murdoch family controls 39.4% of the voting shares of both companies.

"We believe James Murdoch has matured as a leader who understands the necessary changes in the digital age," Anthony DiClemente, media analyst with Nomura Securities, said in a report. "We believe shareholders will largely approve his appointment as CEO. We do not expect any major near-term changes to strategy, particularly as Rupert Murdoch will continue to oversee some of the day-to-day operating activities."

Times staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.

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