New Zealander Tom Mockridge has resigned unexpectedly as chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper arm, the Financial Times has reported.
People familiar with his decision said it came after he was passed over for the chief executive position at the publishing company News Corp is expected to spin off next year, the FT said.
Mockridge is a more than 20-year News Corp veteran who ran its Sky Italia pay-television business before being sent to stabilise News International's Wapping (London) headquarters after the phone hacking scandal swept out his predecessor, Rebekah Brooks.
His exit comes as News Corp is trying to put together two executive and non-executive teams for the entertainment and publishing companies that will emerge from its planned split, after 18 months of high turnover in its top ranks, precipitated by the UK scandals.
It was understood that Robert Thomson, a close confidant of Murdoch who is now managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and editor-in-chief of Dow Jones newswires, would take over as chief executive of the publishing company, the FT reported.
Mockridge started his career in the Taumarunui office of the Taranaki Daily News in 1977 and quickly climbed the career ladder, before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980.
He left journalism briefly to work as a press adviser for former Australian prime minister Paul Keating, and was chief executive of Foxtel before heading back to New Zealand to run Independent Newspapers (INL) - which used to own The Dominion Post and other papers now in the Fairfax stable.
It was in this role in July 2002 that he helped create the merger of The Dominion with The Evening Post, while also acting as chairman of Sky NZ. A month later Mockridge left to become chief executive at Sky Italia, and shortly afterwards INL was bought by Fairfax.
As boss of Sky Italia, he went head to head with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset, Italy's biggest private broadcaster, and often challenged him publicly. Mockridge turned the small Italian satellite TV unit unto a highly successful pay-TV business with operating profits of more than $236 million.