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Rupert Murdoch, the 84-year-old chief executive officer and controlling shareholder of 21st Century Fox, is preparing to step down as CEO of the media giant and hand that title to his son James, according to numerous sources close to the Murdoch family.
An announcement is expected in the near term, while it's unclear whether the reorganization would take place this year or at the start of 2016. Rupert Murdoch will continue to be the executive chairman of Fox, while his son Lachlan would also become an executive co-chairman of the company.
As part of the management reordering at Fox, COO Chase Carey will step down and take on a yet undefined role as an advisor at the company. Carey was widely expected to exercise his right to an early release from his contract, allowing him to leave the company at the end of this year. Now, sources tell me, he is likely to remain in some capacity through 2016. He did not return a call for comment.
While James Murdoch, 42, would take over the day-to-day management of Fox, he will work in tandem with his 43-year-old brother Lachlan and his father. Sources who have spoken with the Murdochs in recent weeks tell me they have shared their plans openly and describe the Murdoch brothers' new roles as a "partnership."
A Fox spokesperson said that the matter of succession is on the board of director's agenda at its next regularly scheduled meeting and declined further comment.
While no one doubts the elder Murdoch will still have the final say on whatever goes on at Fox, Carey's stepping down as COO will leave the company without a layer of senior management outside the family for the first time. For many years that role was filled ably by Peter Chernin, who departed as News Corp.'s COO in 2009 and was succeeded by Carey, who is widely lauded by shareholders for his management of the company's cable networks.
James Murdoch, who gave up his job running BSkyB after the U.K. hacking scandal engulfed the company four years ago, has been winning fans among the Fox investor base for his work as co-COO. They tell me they believe James has matured as a leader, has a detailed knowledge of the company's operations and is the driving force behind its expansion in digital distribution. As one source who knows both James and Lachlan well described it, "James will have the primary role in running Fox while Lachlan will take on a broader strategic role from his co-chairman position."
Rupert Murdoch, who through the Murdoch Family Trust controls 39.4 percent of the voting shares at Fox, is not expected to change much of what he does day to day as chairman of both Fox and News Corp., but the change at Fox is clearly an acknowledgement that the next generation of Murdochs is ready to take its place in leading the media giant.
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