How Rupert Murdoch turned a small Australian newspaper into a global media empire — and built a family dynasty worth $17 billion

james murdoch rupert murdoch

  • Australian-born billionaire Rupert Murdoch, 89, helms a media empire at News Corp. made up of newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, television networks like Fox News, and a handful of other publications across the world.
  • James Murdoch, Rupert’s son and former heir apparent to take over for him, resigned from News Corp.’s board on Friday, citing his disagreement with certain editorial decisions. The news publisher disclosed his resignation in a regulatory filing.
  • Rupert Murdoch inherited his very first newspaper from his father, who was a war reporter turned publisher. 
  • Bloomberg estimates his individual net worth to be $6.53 billion as of July 31, while Forbes pegs the Murdoch family’s collective fortune at $16.9 billion.
  • Following Disney’s $71 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox assets, Murdoch distributed $12 billion in proceeds to his six children.
  • In December 2019, Murdoch’s son Lachlan purchased Chartwell, a historic Bel Air estate, for $150 million. The purchase set a California record and is the third-priciest home sale ever recorded in the US.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories

Rupert Murdoch’s name is one synonymous with media, but it took decades to build his sprawling empire.

He owns dozens upon dozens of newspapers spanning three continents, founded the Fox network — responsible for revolutionizing cable television to what it is today — in the 1980s, and has a net worth $6.53 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which pegs him as the 301st-richest person in the world. Forbes, meanwhile, ranks Murdoch and his family at No. 68 on their own billionaires list with a combined net worth of $17 billion.

Over the span of his five-decade career, Murdoch has been in four marriages. He has six kids.

One of his sons — James Murdoch — was once anticipated to be Murdoch’s heir apparent. The news publisher disclosed that he had resigned in a Friday regulatory filing, effective immediately. “My resignation is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions,” he wrote in his resignation letter. 

He’s also been the subject of a variety of scandals, most prominently when his UK-based paper News of the World was forced to shutter after it was found to have hacked the phone of a slain teenager.

In March 2019, Murdoch received $12 billion from Disney’s purchase of Fox assets and distributed the proceeds to his children, boosting his dynasty’s collective wealth.

Take a look at how Murdoch got his start, the deals he has made, and the growth of his family and empire.

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Rupert Murdoch graduated from Oxford University, then known as Worcester College, in 1952.

His father, Sir Keith Murdoch, a war reporter turned publisher, died the same year, and Murdoch went back to Australia to take over the family business at the age of 22.

Source: BBC News

Murdoch, seen here in 1960, inherited a chain of Australian newspapers from his father. According to Bloomberg, Murdoch embedded himself in all matters of production, from writing copy to managing the printer and redesigning page layouts.

He especially made it a priority to include “lurid stories and scandals,” which made paper sales boom. He began buying other publications, including The Daily Mirror and the Perth Sunday Times.

Source: Bloomberg

Murdoch then went on to found Australia’s first nationwide newspaper, The Australian, in 1964.

Murdoch later founded News Corporation, known as News Corp, which now owns more than 170 papers worldwide.

Source: BBC News

Murdoch made his first UK purchase in 1968, buying News of the World. He later acquired The Sun.

Source: Bloomberg

In 1981, he bought the Times Group — adding the Sunday Times and The Times, two UK newspapers, to his growing international portfolio.

Source: BBC News

Murdoch moved to New York City in the late 1970s, and bought his first US newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, though many say Murdoch came into his stride in the 1980s when he purchased the New York Post and New York magazine.

Murdoch still owns the Post today, but offloaded New York magazine in the early 1990s, along with a few other magazines he previously owned.

Source: Bloomberg

In 1987, Murdoch bought what is now book publishing giant Harper Collins for $293 million. He still owns the publishing house today.

Source: The New York Times

It was during the 1980s that Murdoch began his Fox empire, buying stake in 20th Century Fox, subsequently creating television stations, and effectively transforming cable television.

He bought over 50% of stock in the company, for over $250 million. 

Source: Bloomberg, Washington Post

In 1989, Murdoch became a naturalized US citizen.

Source: Bloomberg

Murdoch has been married four times. He married his first wife, Patricia Booker, in 1956, when he was 25. The couple divorced 11 years later. Prudence, born in 1958, is Murdoch and Booker’s eldest child and daughter.

Source: Vanity Fair

About a year after his first marriage ended, Murdoch married Anna Mann (née Torv). The couple had three children — Elisabeth, James, and Lachlan — and divorced in 1999. Elisabeth, Murdoch’s second child and daughter, was born 10 years after Prudence.

Elisabeth has worked for many of her father’s businesses, including News Corp. and FX. In 2019, she became executive chairman of Sister, a global TV and film production company.

Source: The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Deadline

Just 17 days after divorcing his second wife, Murdoch married Wendi Deng, whom he met while she was working at Star TV in Hong Kong, in 1999.

They were married for 14 years before splitting in 2013. 

Source: Business Insider

They have two teenage daughters, Grace, 19, and Chloe, 17.

Source: Business Insider

Murdoch would go on to buy social network MySpace for $580 million in 2005, only to sell it for $35 million a few years later.

Source: The New York Times

Murdoch’s News Corp won a bid to buy Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal and other brands, in 2007 for $5 billion.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the paper is one the billionaire long coveted; some feared, at the time, that he would meddle in its editorial affairs. 

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Murdoch is also very close with former Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson. Murdoch made Thomson, who is also from Australia, the CEO of News Corp in 2013.

In 2011, The New Yorker reported Thomson was Murdoch’s “closest friend,” dining in restaurants frequently with one another and chatting about politics and drinking wine.

Source: Bloomberg, The New Yorker

In 2009, The Guardian published an article about illicit phone hacking conducted by News of the World into the voicemail of a British teenager who had been killed.

The scandal went on to rock Murdoch’s reputation in Britain. Years after the scandal, his attempt to buy television network British Sky Broadcasting was dropped due to public outcry. 

Source: The Guardian, The New York Times

Two years later, the Murdoch family announced plans to shutter the paper after 168 years of operation.

In front of lawmakers in 2011, Murdoch apologized for the phone hacking.

Source: The New York Times

In 2015, 21st Century Fox announced that Murdoch would be handing off new leadership roles to his two sons, James and Lachlan, keeping the company in the family.

Lachlan, 48, now holds the role of co-chairman of News Corp and executive chairman and CEO of Fox Corporation. James, 47, no longer works for Fox and founded Lupa Systems, a private investment company, in 2019. Murdoch’s two sons are from his second marriage to Anna Mann. 

Source: The New York Times; Fox Corporation; Hollywood Reporter

Lachlan celebrated the promotion by buying a $29 million, 13,500-square-foot home in Aspen, Colorado in 2017.

Source: Business Insider

Murdoch himself doesn’t mind living lavishly — he owns an $84 million Gulfstream G650.

Source: Business Insider

He also bought this Bel Air mansion for $28.8 million in 2013.

The property was once a horse ranch and has over 16 acres of land, 13 of which are grapevines. The residence is nearly 8,000 square feet and includes a guest house and office building. 

In 2017, Variety reported that Murdoch’s estate was impacted by a California wildfire, but none of the buildings were burned. 

Source: Variety

In 2014, Murdoch bought the top four floors in the One Madison Park building in New York City, just steps away from Madison Square Park, for $57.5 million. The penthouse offers sweeping views of Lower Manhattan and Midtown.

Murdoch tried to sell the elaborate four-story apartment for $72 million less than a year later. According to Zillow, the list was removed in 2016; it’s unclear whether Murdoch still owns the property.

Source: Curbed NY, Zillow

Murdoch bought a 180-foot yacht in 2006 and named it Rosehearty, after a village home to his ancestors in Scotland. He later sold it after his divorce from Deng in 2013.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner vacationed on the boat with Murdoch’s ex-wife Deng prior to her divorce from Murdoch. The yacht has seven guest cabins and a Jacuzzi on the deck. 

Source: Boat International, The New York Times

Murdoch and former supermodel Jerry Hall got married at St. Bride’s church in London in March of 2016.

Source: Business Insider

Hall is his fourth wife and was formerly a partner of Mick Jagger, with whom she has four kids.

The day Murdoch married Hall was also the last day he tweeted — he was formerly prolific on Twitter, and would comment on topics like politics.

Tweet Embed:
//twitter.com/mims/statuses/705777630474334209?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
No more tweets for ten days or ever! Feel like the luckiest AND happiest man in world.

 

Source: Business Insider

Although many of Murdoch’s publications and television networks lean toward the right politically, he tried to convince former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run for president against Donald Trump in 2016.

During the 2016 primaries, Murdoch’s publications, the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, went after Trump, calling him “toast” and a “phony.”

Source: Forbes; The New York Times

Yet, since the 2016 presidential election, Murdoch and Trump have become quite close. In 2017, The New York Times reported that Murdoch calls Trump at the White House a few times a week to chat about politics and business.

Source: The New York Times

Their relationship was not always friendly, though. When Trump was an up-and-comer in the real-estate industry, Murdoch’s Page Six would often cover the saucy details of his personal life.

The two eventually became friendly as their circles drew closer together.

Source: The New York Times

A 2017 report from the New York Times noted that Murdoch’s ex-wife Deng is good friends with Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Deng even played a part in getting Ivanka back with husband Jared Kushner when the two briefly broke up in 2008.

Source: The New York Times, Business Insider

In 2017, Murdoch-run 21st Century Fox announced it would sell to Disney for $71.1 billion.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

On March 20, 2019, Disney acquired the famed Fox Hollywood studios and various other television operations of the Murdoch family-controlled group, which is responsible for blockbusters like “Avatar” and series like “The Simpsons.” The total purchase came to $71.3 billion.

Source: The Wall Street Journal; Vox

So what’s left after the sale? A lot, actually. Lachlan Murdoch heads Fox News, the Fox Broadcasting network, and the FS1 cable sports network, while Rupert himself still helms News Corporation and the handful of newspapers it publishes.

Source: The New York Times

After news of the Disney deal broke, Murdoch’s net worth jumped by $1.2 billion. In early March 2019, the collective Murdoch family’s fortune sat at $19.8 billion, according to Forbes.

Disney has since dropped “Fox” from the name of the studios it acquired in the deal.

Source: Forbes, Associated Press

Murdoch received $12 billion in proceeds from the sale, which he distributed to his children, dropping his net worth by roughly that amount. Murdoch is now, according to Bloomberg, individually worth $6.53 billion, making him the 301st-richest person in the world.

Source: Forbes, Bloomberg

In December 2019, Lachlan Murdoch purchased the Chartwell estate, a historic Bel-Air estate previously owned by media billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio, for $150 million. The sale set a California record and is the third-most expensive home sale ever recorded in the US.

Source: Business Insider

A new three-part BBC documentary documenting Rupert Murdoch’s rise to media fame and his influence on world events debuted July 14 on BBC Two.

Source: Financial Times

In a regulatory filing on Friday, July 31, News Corp. announced that Murdoch’s son James was resigning from the board. He wrote that the decision was made “due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions” in his resignation letter.

Source: Securities and Exchange Commission

Source: businessinsider
How Rupert Murdoch turned a small Australian newspaper into a global media empire — and built a family dynasty worth billion