For Rupert Murdoch’s top aides, stepping aside is part of the job
For Rupert Murdoch’s second in command, it might as well be part of the job description: a willingness to step aside for family succession plans.
With the media mogul set to hand off control of 21st Century Fox to his sons, James and Lachlan, current President and Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey will exit both those roles and become a Murdoch advisor instead.
Carey isn’t the first top executive to be passed over by Murdoch. In 2009, Peter Chernin left his president and chief operating officer positions at News Corp., having realized that he would eventually be replaced by one of Murdoch’s children.
Although that family ascension wouldn’t happen for years — Carey left his chief executive role at DirecTV to take Chernin’s role in the meantime — it seemed clear that Chernin would not advance to the top job.
Now, with the expected elevation of Murdoch’s sons, Carey might look to Chernin’s experience for guidance on his post-Murdoch career — which seems to suit Chernin just fine. Some experts even say Chernin’s departure fueled his rising clout and influence in the industry.
“He’s a very well-thought-of executive, and he’s re-created himself in a really wonderful way,” said Jason E. Squire, an associate professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. “He is a model for executive reinvention.”
Chernin, 64, declined to comment.
After a 20-year career at News Corp. — during which he oversaw massive box-office successes such as “Titanic” and “Avatar” for Fox Filmed Entertainment and ran the television network — Chernin left Murdoch’s side as a popular man on Wall Street and in Hollywood.
His entrepreneurial ambitions — to strike out on his own and independently produce films and television through his new Santa Monica company, the Chernin Group — at first left some people skeptical. Several top studio executives had attempted the same and failed. Industry watchers wondered whether he might be better suited to a prominent role at a major company such as Apple Inc.
Chernin, however, left his former employer with a highly lucrative deal in place for Fox to fund a certain number of his movies and television shows each year — an arrangement that has laid the groundwork for his current success.
Since his company launched in 2010, Chernin’s filmography has included the fast-paced “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” the oddball “St. Vincent” and the comedy and current box-office topper “Spy.” Chernin’s company also produced the popular television show “New Girl.”
The company has also actively invested in technology and media companies, grabbing stakes in Pandora, Tumblr and Flipboard, while exploring partnerships in Asia and other developing markets. Last spring, the Chernin Group partnered with AT&T to form Otter Media, a venture designed to acquire, invest in and develop online video services such as YouTube video network Fullscreen Inc.
Carey may have a similar contingency plan in place, but may be limited in his near-term options by a temporary non-compete clause, experts said. Like Chernin, he is well-respected by the financial community, having established himself at DirecTV, although he isn’t quite as active on the Hollywood scene as his predecessor was. But experts said Carey was probably aware of Murdoch’s familial succession plans, having signed a short-term two-year contract last year.
“The wise executive at the highest levels of the entertainment industry know that their days are numbered, that the odds are increasingly against you the longer you stay in a top studio position,” Squire said. “When negotiating, they spend a lot of time on the golden parachute and a separation clause.”
But for all his success, leaving Murdoch meant that Chernin has, for now at least, moved into “a vastly smaller pond than the one he was in before,” said Doug Creutz, a media analyst with Cowen & Co.
“These guys never want to give up their seat,” Creutz said. “When you’re running a major media company, you’re important; and when you step down, you’re no longer important.”
That hasn’t been the case with Barry Diller, another former Murdoch executive turned IAC/InterActiveCorp media baron, who abruptly resigned as chairman of Fox Inc. in 1992 partly to escape from Murdoch’s shadow.
“Diller’s career was different — he always had an entrepreneurial spirit, built quite the post-studio career and still has it,” said Bill Mechanic, a former Fox executive and current head of Pandemonium Films. “I don’t know that that’s happened with Chernin; I don’t know that he has that kind of sphere of influence.”
Times staff writer Richard Verrier contributed to this report.