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November 2, 2000
By John Lippman, Leslie Chang and Robert Frank
WHEN NewsCorp officials gathered in the Hong Kong convention center last March to unveil their latest Chinese internet investment, a tall woman handed out a business card that read “News Corporation/Wendi Deng Murdoch.”
Deng is not a NewsCorp employee. Once a junior executive at the company’s Star TV in Hong Kong, Deng, 31, quit her post before marrying NewsCorp chairman Rupert Murdoch last year. Since then, she has been portrayed ¾ by Murdoch and the company ¾ as a traditional housewife who attends to decorating, her husband’s diet and the like.
But Deng is no homebody. Though she doesn’t have a formal position with her husband’s media empire, she has quickly asserted her influence over NewsCorp’s operations and investments in Asia, its most important growth market. Working with her stepson, James Murdoch, 27, Deng has initiated or advocated Chinese internet investments totaling between $35 million and $45 million, according to a top NewsCorp executive. With her advice, the company has also formed partnerships with cable companies in the region looking to upgrade their systems for high-speed video and internet access.
Murdoch, who is 69, has never hesitated to put family members to work in his businesses. 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. James serves as chief executive of Star TV and has carved out Asia and the internet as his province. Even Murdoch’s ex-wife, Anna Mann, whom he divorced last year, has an office and assistant at NewsCorp’s New York offices, although she no longer has an active role with the company.
Now, Deng is rising to a place of prominence in the family business.
People within NewsCorp 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 Deng is well suited for this unusual role. The daughter of a factory director in Guangzhou, China, Deng came to the U.S. 12 years ago with the aid of a California couple. The husband in that couple later left his wife for Deng. She mastered English, climbed from a California college to Yale’s business school and eventually landed at Star TV in Hong Kong.
Having left China in obscurity as a teenager, Deng is now returning in grand style, as the wife and adviser of a global media baron.
“Wendi gives NewsCorp a Chinese face in China,’ says Joseph Ravitch, co-head of the global media practice at Goldman Sachs Group, which advises NewsCorp on its Asia strategy. “She represents not just the company but the owner, and that’s critical in a country where families are very important.’
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