A Business Lesson from Rupert Murdoch


I was going to start this blog with the words “like every parent”. But that’s ridiculous. Like every normal person, I was appalled when I read the allegations about the News of the World phone hacking in the Milly Dowler case. So when I found out that the NOTW was being closed down I won’t say that I cheered: I did feel a sort of grim satisfaction.

So why is this blog called ‘A business lesson from Rupert Murdoch?’ What – in the week when he apparently lost $6 billion – can you possibly learn from the owner of the late and not-much-lamented NOTW?

I have friend who’s a writer. We were chatting over a glass of red wine last week. We started off on phone hacking, and ended up on the qualities a good writer needs. “You have to be ruthless,” she said. “You write something that you think is wonderful – possibly the finest words ever written in the English language. Then a day later you realise it doesn’t fit in the book/article/blog you’re writing. And however good those words are, they have to go. Successful writers use the delete key more than any other.”

And that’s precisely what Rupert Murdoch has done with the NOTW – deleted a business which was presumably (until recent events) contributing healthily to the profits of News International. Would that have continued to be the case? Clearly not. With Ford and all the other major advertisers abandoning the paper it would have very quickly started to make a loss. But people have short memories. The temptation must have been to tough it out. Maybe go down ‘the sinner repenteth’ route and relaunch the NOTW as the responsible, ethical face of tabloid journalism.

But Murdoch decided to close the paper. And whatever my personal feelings about the paper, I find myself grudgingly admiring the business decision. I admire the fact that it was ruthless (and there are a lot of innocent people who find themselves without a job this morning) and I admire the fact that it was quick. And this, I think, is where we can learn.

So having quoted Elvis as a business guru last week, let me turn to another well respected financial commentator – Macbeth. (No, no – you don’t need to go that far. I don’t want everyone sitting round the Board table muttering “is this a dagger I see before me…”)

But what did Macbeth say? If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
it were done quickly.

Everyone goes through a period when some part of their business is struggling. If that’s the case for you, do something quickly. That’s especially true today, with technology moving ever more quickly. Technology does not march backwards. The world is not full of candlestick makers saying, “Thank goodness I hung in there. I knew the electric light was just a passing craze.” And however many horses they terrified, once the first cars appeared on the road there was never going to be any turning back.

Making the decision to close part of your business – or to scrap a project you’ve invested time and money in – is difficult and painful. But waiting doesn’t make it easier. Waiting simply means losing more money while you’re putting off the inevitable.

So if you have a difficult decision to make, take the advice of Messrs Murdoch and Macbeth. ‘Twere well it were done quickly. Candlesticks or horse-drawn buggies may have been good to you in the past, but their day is gone. It’s time to move on.

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5 comments

  1. Dick Jennings · July 14, 2011

    What your writer friend says about using the delete key?

    Samuel Johnson: “I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils:’Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.'”

    Very good advice in my view, albeit painful to follow.

  2. Douglas Adamson · July 14, 2011

    I think the object lesson of this ghastly saga is that however big and invulnerable your business may be that you are never immune to human failings. And once the cat is out of the bag in today’s fast moving media world it means there is nowhere to hide. The tiny Guardian newspaper (in comparison with News Corp) doggedly pursued this story to its bitter and rightful conclusion. But it is far from over. The US is now asking some serious questions of Murdoch’s other titles and media interests, the share price is taking a pasting and there could be an exit of shareholders on a major scale. The whole lot could unravel. And all because the NOW thought it could walk on water. Decency, integrity and even lawfullness (allegedly!) seems to have been a characteristic that has disappeared from red top journalism. Kelvin Mackenzie, the past editor of the Sun, was heard to say a few years ago that he never wanted the truth to get in the way of a good story so they didn’t always double check sources! On this occasion the unvarnished truth has made the newspaper story of the year. And about time too!

  3. Matthew Steeples · July 14, 2011

    The empty vessels make the loudest sound now. With Lord Black, Pandora Maxwell and Chris Bryant on his back, Rupert Murdoch will finally get some sympathy: http://dasteepsspeaks.blogspot.com/2011/07/empty-vessel-makes-loudest-sound.html

  4. Jo Clarkson · July 15, 2011

    I’m with Ed and MacB on this (although comment re Muchdoch to follow!)

    At the begininning of the 90’s I may have got myself the knickname of ‘Josephine le Guillotine’ (which I’m not proud of) through persuading my colleagues that we needed to reduce the size of our organisation in anticipation of the impending recession, rather than be stuck trying to react when things got desparate – but it meant we saved a lot of money which provided some security for the future. Most importantley we were able to implement the changes in a structured and ‘respectful’ way which at least minimised the pain for the people it affected.

    However in Murdoch’s case I wouldn’t credit him with the same motivation – allegedly the plans for launching the ‘Sunday Sun’ were well advanced before the scandal broke, and I suspect this just brought forward the inevitable and got him some brownie points in the process. Or am I getting too cynical in my old age….?!

  5. demhalluk · July 15, 2011

    Great post, and a good lesson to learn.

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