From reporter to tough-minded fix-it man

The Kiwi brought in to save News Corp

Last updated 05:00 18/07/2011
KIWI AT HELM: New Zealander Tom Mockridge has taken over as chief executive of News International.
AP
KIWI AT HELM: New Zealander Tom Mockridge has taken over as chief executive of News International.

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As a flares-clad, moustachioed cadet reporter, a young Tom Mockridge chased every breaking news story Taumarunui could throw at him.

Now, as the freshly appointed chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's embattled News International, Mr Mockridge, 55, will have a lot more to worry about than the outcome of the local Taumarunui v Taupo rugby match.

The Kiwi was brought in late on Friday to replace former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks as the head of News International, after she resigned in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal. Mr Mockridge will have a fight on his hands to restore Britain's faith in the besmirched company, and its stable of newspapers. But those who worked with him during his fledgling career in New Zealand say he was a "tough" boss, who had management written all over him even early on at the Taumarunui branch office of the Taranaki Daily News.

He began work at the Daily News in 1977, quickly climbing the career ladder and moving to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980. Mr Mockridge 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 Mr 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. Mr Mockridge turned the small Italian satellite TV unit unto a highly successful pay-TV business which has operating profits of more than $236 million and employs 4500 people.

Former Fairfax chief operating officer Peter O'Hara, who worked with Mr Mockridge, said he was impressive from the first contact. "He was a very sharp thinker and immediately saw opportunities and managed them very firmly. And I know from the dealings I had with Sky TV that Tom was a very tough manager. He was looking for a lot of improvement and he was very demanding, and he would ring them all hours of the day and night and tell them very firmly what they needed to do to improve their business. But also he was a Kiwi at heart and had a very good affinity with what we were doing."

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Taranaki Daily News news editor Steve Anker told The Australian that, back in the Taumarunui days, Mr Mockridge was a sharp-looking lad who had "I'm not hanging round here for very long" stamped all over him.

And Lance Girling-Butcher, who worked at the rival Taranaki Herald before later editing the Daily News, said Mr Mockridge always had an eye on management. "His journalistic career was totally unremarkable."

Acquaintances from those days recall him in flares, driving a Mark 3 Zephyr and sporting a moustache – a far cry from the suited, steely-haired man who has been tasked with leading one of the world's largest newspaper conglomerates out of its darkest days.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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