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FB Roundup: Shun Tak Holdings, News Corp, Exor

Daughter Pansy Ho succeeds Macau casino kingpin Stanley Ho, coronavirus crumbles Murdoch’s media empire foundations, John Elkann of the Agnelli dynasty shares Exor’s Covid-19 strategy.

Daughter Pansy Ho succeeds Macau casino kingpin Stanley Ho

Stanley Ho, the flamboyant patriarch who transformed Macau from a Portuguese outpost into the world’s gambling capital, has died at the age of 98, leaving his daughter Pansy Ho as the heir apparent.

Dr Stanley Ho GBM, Medalha de Honra Grande Lotus (pictured) died surrounded by his family on 26 May at Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital. In a statement, the $1.8 billion conglomerate he founded, Shun Tak Holdings, said Ho had been an influential and “exemplary leader” in many industry sectors, most notably in tourism, leisure entertainment and property development.

“Over the past 50 years, Dr Ho had steered the revolutionary development of Macau’s gaming and entertainment industry, with the objective of diversifying its growth to drive parallel advancements in social, infrastructural and cultural developments and injected Macau with the necessary vitality to transform into a world class international tourism destination as it is known today.”

Although born into a wealthy Hong Kong business family in 1921, the fortune was lost in the Great Depression. The Japanese invasion of the British colony in 1941 during the Second World War led the young Ho to smuggle luxury goods across the Chinese border from Macau. He used the proceeds to set up construction companies in 1943, capitalising on the post-war building boom, then he and his partners successfully bid for Macau's gaming monopoly license in 1961. He founded Shun Tak Holdings Ltd in 1972 with interests in property, transportation, hospitality and investment.

After surviving a stroke in 2009 and a familial inheritance dispute, Ho began to organise his succession, fully transferring control by 2018. The chairman emeritus left behind a family fortune of $15 billion, plus four wives and 17 children, several of whom sit on Macau’s gaming companies.

The nonagenarian’s close eldest daughter Pansy Ho (pictured), 57, has long been considered his prime successor. The Hong Kong-Canadian billionaire businesswoman served as managing director of several companies her father founded and has been chairwoman of Shun Tak Holdings since 2017.

The next gen has her work cut out. In March, Shun Tak Holdings reported its revenue for 2019 was $1.8 billion, a notable fall of 26% year-on-year due to “global economic instability, socio-political tensions in Hong Kong and dampened consumer confidence”. The outbreak of the coronavirus and restrictions on travel to Macau’s resorts were likely to compound the impact on the family’s bottom line.

Coronavirus crumbles Murdoch’s media empire foundations

Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire continues to shrink as News Corp Australia blames the coronavirus for accelerating the closure and digital transfer of a swathe of Australian community newspapers amid hundreds of redundancies.

The publisher of the major newspapers The Australian, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun said the impact of Covid-19 had impacted the sustainability of its regional publishing. Despite audiences of News Corp’s digital mastheads growing more than 60% during the lockdown, print advertising spending which contributed the most to revenues, had accelerated its regional decline.

A total of seven major regional titles, such as the larrikin-humoured tabloid NT News will continue to publish both in print and digitally. However, 112 newspapers will end print publishing. Some 36 of those papers will shut down entirely while 76 will continue as online publications only. About 375 journalists out of 1,200 will be left to cover local news from 29 June prompting fears of “news deserts” across the vast continent.

Yet more than 640,000 Australians subscribed to News Corp’s digital news content and subscriptions grew annually by 24%. Much of the growth came from local news, where subscribers more than doubled in the past year. In regional Queensland, the state where most of News Corp’s regional titles were based, more than 80,000 people had digital subscriptions and that number had grown by more than 40% this year.

Rupert Murdoch (pictured) inherited the daily Adelaide newspaper The News upon the death of his father, Sir Keith Murdoch (pictured), in 1952. The 22-year-old second-gen built his global family business News Ltd by acquiring a series of regional and city newspapers and launched the country’s first national newspaper, The Australian, in 1964.

The closures of the print newspapers which once formed the bedrock of the Murdoch media empire was the latest upheaval to befall the 89-year-old mogul. His News Corporation sold its 20th Century Fox film studio and other media operations to Disney for $71 billion in 2019. Murdoch kept the news outlets within the new $11 billion spin-off Fox Corporation, owned via a family trust with Rupert as co-executive chairman and heir apparent son Lachlan Murdoch, 48, as chairman and chief executive.

News Corp reported its revenues for the fiscal third quarter in 2020 were $2.27 billion, an 8% drop compared to $2.46 billion in the previous year. The decline was due to the slump in print advertising and fewer subscriptions at the Australian pay television channel Foxtel. Murdoch, as executive chairman, led pay reductions among senior managers by voluntarily waiving his cash bonus for the current fiscal year. Rupert and the Murdoch family have a fortune of $17.3 billion, according to Forbes.

John Elkann of the Agnelli dynasty shares Exor’s Covid-19 strategy

John Elkann, billionaire businessman and scion of Italy’s Agnelli family dynasty, has evoked the words of Leonardo da Vinci in rallying against the coronavirus crisis.

In his “letter from lockdown” to shareholders, the chairman of Fiat Chrysler said the Agnelli family “has been in business for a long time and has overcome wars, revolutions, crises and pandemics and we know that our response to the current crisis will require, as Leonardo da Vinci said five centuries ago: ‘The urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do’.”

In marking the first decade of Exor, the family’s $25.5 billion holding company, Elkann (pictured), 44, shared what measures it took to confront the Covid-19 pandemic and its health, social and economic implications.

Each company established crisis-management processes which involved increased board interaction and internal communication. With staff health protection in mind, Exor’s industrial subsidiaries FCA, Ferrari (pictured) and CNHI all temporarily closed their plants. Its media outlets, including leading Italian newspapers La Repubblica and La Stampa plus 13 regional newspapers, magazines including L'Espresso and National Geographic Italia, the Italian edition of The Huffington Post and three national radio stations grappled with reporting while working remotely.

The chosen heir of his late grandfather, Gianni Agnelli, said Exor ensured that all its companies were focused on business continuity.

“This has included detailed assessments of their liquidity positions, taking actions to reduce cash outflows and ensuring effective access to financing through debt markets and banking partners, with the crisis being a good reminder of who these partners really are.

“Each company has also looked at ways to reschedule its investments and reduce costs. However, mindful of the businesses’ long-term health, we have emphasised the need to maintain essential investments and to support our partner companies, including critical suppliers and dealers.”

Elkann said Exor supported the communities its companies operated in, such as buying and donating ventilators and personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare providers. Technical and engineering skills were applied pro bono to boost production at Siare, Italy’s only producer of ventilators. Exor’s 3D printers in European plants were repurposed to produce face shields for health authorities and a plant in China was converted to produce and donate face masks. The conglomerate equipped five bio-ambulances and 500 other vehicles for medical relief efforts in Italy while in Brazil Exor helped create a field hospital and fund initiatives to provide basic hospital care to low income families.

“The importance of Exor’s values has become very evident during the last few weeks, with the leaders and directors of our companies adding to our corporate actions by personally sacrificing some or all of their compensation for this year,” Elkann said.

“At Exor we have done the same and will work with the Agnelli Foundation to channel these resources into an education initiative to help address the Covid-19 learning challenges faced by schools and students both today and as the current restrictions are lifted.”

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