Sunday, August 5, 2007

“Jeez, I’d love to own that.”

How Murdoch stalked Dow:
In September 2005, Steginsky was in Murdoch’s office. On a coffee table sat a copy of The Wall Street Journal. The media tycoon picked it up, scanned the front page and said simply: “Jeez, I’d love to own that.” Steginsky was well aware that the support of the Bancrofts was key. By coincidence, he knew one of the family members, William Cox, who had been predicting that the company could be facing hard times.

Steginsky suggested he might give Cox a call to test the waters. Murdoch agreed.

Within the following couple of months, Steginsky and Cox met – first in Princeton, then in New York. The idea of a News Corporation takeover was gently floated. Cox was definitely interested.

The pursuit continued to Rome, where Cox and his wife Beatrice had a flat. Steginsky flew there and booked himself a room at the Hotel de Russie between the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo. The five-star hotel, where an executive single room costs €480 (£323) a night, was just across the road from the Coxes’ flat.

Over three days, Steginsky shuttled back and forth between the hotel and the flat. With the Coxes, he discussed the merits of a takeover. More importantly, he gained a detailed insight into the various arms of the controlling family – or more accurately, the families: the Bancrofts, Hills and Coxes – who held sway over Dow Jones.

Stegisnky flew to Prague. There, at the airport, he met Elisabeth Goth Chelberg, William Cox’s cousin, a champion horsewoman who divides her time between Kentucky and the Czech Republic. They spoke for about an hour.

For more than a year, Steginsky pursued his quiet campaign, approaching members of the Bancroft clan to gauge their support.

Some were receptive: Michael Hill, an environmental scientist living in Boston, had written a letter in 2005 urging that the family should actively try to revive Dow Jones.

“The system is broken and we all have to put our heads together to fix it,” the letter said.

Others refused to countenance the idea of a takeover. Leslie Hill, a retired airline pilot, was contacted by phone. She shouted that the family did not want to sell and abruptly hung up.

Steginsky also received a firm rebuff from Michael Elefante, a Dow Jones director and a trustee for some older Bancroft family members. Leslie Hill’s mother, Jane Cox MacElree, was opposed to a sale “at any price”.

By the spring of this year, Murdoch was ready to move.

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