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The boss's wife proves a News Corp asset Good guys see merit in outlaw Stokes recedes in Seven restructuring


Thursday 2 November 2000

No homebody: Since marrying News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch last year, Wendi Deng has been portrayed as a traditional housewife. However, the former News Corp employee has turned out to be a business and linguistic asset to her husband.

When News Corp officials gathered in the Hong Kong convention centre in March to unveil their latest Chinese Internet investment, a tall woman in their midst handed out a business card that read simply: "News Corporation/Wendi Deng Murdoch".

Ms Deng is not a News Corp employee. Once a junior executive at the company's Star TV unit in Hong Kong, Ms Deng, 31, quit her post before marrying News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch last year. Since then, she has been portrayed - by Mr Murdoch and the company - as a traditional housewife who attends to decorating, her husband's diet and the like.

But Ms Deng is no homebody. Although she has no formal position in her husband's media empire, she has quickly asserted influence over News Corp's operations and investments in Asia, the most important growth market for the company.

Working with her stepson, James Murdoch, 27, Ms Deng has initiated or advocated Chinese Internet investments totalling $US35-$US45 million ($A67-$A87 million), according to a top News Corp executive. With her advice, News Corp has also formed partnerships with cable companies in the region looking to upgrade their systems for high-speed video and Internet access.

The elder Mr Murdoch, who is 69, has never hesitated to put family members to work at his company. Last month he named his eldest son, Lachlan, 29, deputy chief operating officer in a move partly aimed at clarifying that he is his father's heir apparent.

James serves as chief executive of Star TV and has carved out Asia and the Internet as his province. Even Mr Murdoch's ex-wife, Anna Murdoch Mann, whom he divorced last year, has an office and assistant at News Corp's New York offices, although she no longer has an active role with the company.

Now, Ms Deng is rising to a place of prominence in the family business. People in News Corp and outsiders involved in the Chinese Internet and media industries say she identifies potential investments for her husband's company and acts as his liaison and translator in China.

These people say Ms Deng is exceptionally well suited for this unusual role. The daughter of a factory director in Guangzhou, China, Ms Deng went to the United States 12 years ago with the aid of a California couple. The husband in that couple later left his wife for the much younger Ms Deng. She mastered English, climbed from a California commuter college to Yale's business school and eventually landed at Hong Kong's Star TV.

Having left China in obscurity as a teenager, Ms Deng is returning in grand style, as the wife and counsellor of a global media baron.

"Wendi gives News Corp a Chinese face in China," says Joseph Ravitch, co-head of the global-media practice at Goldman Sachs Group, who advises News Corp on its Asia strategy. "She represents not just the company but the owner; which is critical in a country where families are important."

Mr Ravitch says Ms Deng often stays weeks in China and recently completed a 10-day stint there, brokering deals, while her husband was in New York and Europe.

She may have no official role, says Star TV president Bruce Churchill, but Ms Deng "is married to the chairman and chief executive of the company, so it seems natural she have some voice in the business".

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