On Murdoch�s Wendi (Wendy) Deng & Zhang Yufeng · 25 March 2007

Most speculation about the future of News Corp misses a crucial point just as important as what happens to News Corp after the death of Rupert Murdoch may be what happens BEFORE! Wendi (Wendy) Deng is ideally placed to become Murdoch’s Zhang Yufeng.

Neil Chenoweth, in his article, Keeping it in the Family (AFR Perspective, 24 March), writes about life after Rupert and says that this has always been the question that News Corp investors have studiously avoided. Grant Samuel, a corporate advisory group, has recently written: It appears that most investors who invest in News Corp do so because they are backing Mr. Murdoch’s management and vision for the company and seem comfortable with his level of control.

What investors seem to be ignoring is the significant possibility that Wendi (Wendy) Deng will became a powerful gate-keeper separating Murdoch from most of his senior executives, in a similar way to Zhang Yufeng who became Mao Zedong’s gate-keeper. Murdoch is now 76 years old, and the older he becomes, the greater the probability of this occurring.

Apart from being his wife, Wendi (Wendy) Deng has the great advantage over others (including over other family members) of proximity and can whisper in his ear every morning; and according to Andrew Neil, who served as a Murdoch lieutenant for over a decade, Murdoch is highly susceptible to poison being poured in his ear about someone.

Time exacts a toll which cannot be ignored. Andrew Neil wrote that by 1994 Murdoch had become increasingly unpredictable, even whimsical, moving people about for no very good reason (spinning wheels was how one executive put it), except to satisfy his latest wheeze. He was even doing it to himself. Now over sixty, with intimations of mortality but still so much to do, he had become even more of a man in a hurry. He was moving executives around like pieces on a chessboard to suit whatever purpose obsessed him at that particular moment; regardless of the disruption in their lives they were expected to fit in, even if fundamental decisions risked being reversed only weeks after they were taken.

That was 13 years ago!

Murdoch has always been a loner, a Sun King who has adopted the classical dictatorial management style of someone like Mao who eschewed conventional management structures and hated delegating power. A person should depend on himself to do his work reading and commenting on documents, said Mao. Don’t depend on secretaries. Don’t give secretaries a lot of power. Yet, toward the end of his life, Mao’s did just this.

Li Zhisui, Mao’s long-time doctor, wrote that in 1973 Mao criticised Zhou Enlai for not discussing major issues with him, reporting only minor matters instead. Zhou’s position was awkward. He was still loyal to Mao. But Zhang Yufeng had become Mao’s gatekeeper and made it difficult for the two to meet because she was nearly always with him.

And it only got worse. One day in June 1976, when Hua Guofeng had come to see Mao, Zhang Yufeng had been napping and the attendants on duty were afraid to rouse her. Two hours later, when Zhang had still not gotten up, Hua, second in command only to Mao, finally left without seeing his superior.

Life after Rupert may be less interesting and important for News Corp investors than the remainder of life WITH Rupert.