Very strong word going around News Ltd’s Melbourne subsidiary, The Herald and Weekly Times, that the company’s general manager John Webster – infamous for his tight-fistedness well before he became general manager and turned it into an art form – refused a request for a new laptop forwarded to him by the company’s IT manager, Paul Housiaux. Housiaux had received the request from, ahem, the company chairman, Janet Calvert-Jones, Rupert’s sister.

There followed, according to the word going round, a session behind a closed door, which was followed fairly quickly by approval for the purchase of a new laptop. Mr Webster drives to work in a company BMW, which turned up within days of him becoming GM a couple of years ago. His predecessor, the much admired Reg Cordina (now chairman of Advertiser Newspapers in Adelaide) did not. And HWT’s CEO, Julian Clarke, drives a Holden.

Former Herald Sun business editors Stephen Mayne writes:

“Webbo” first landed himself a Beamer in the late 1990s when he bought Terry McCrann’s as the bearded burbler upgraded to a new model. McCrann had a couple of accidents in his company cars and even managed to roll one BMW a few years back, but the one Webbo acquired had been fixed up.

Incidentally, Webbo’s cost cutting is quite legendary and his stoushes with Bob Hart, the resident Sir Lunchalot of the Herald Sun, were well known in the office. However, the former sports editor and deputy editor who crossed into management about 10 years ago isn’t all bad. When I took extended leave without pay in 1997, he let me delay the holiday pay component until the next financial year.

That said, it was always hard work getting Webbo to agree to spend money on anything, which is what Rupert likes in his newspaper managers as they are responsible for funding his global dreams in other media.

However, there is a minor issue here. Why should News Ltd pay for Rupert’s sister to get a laptop when the Murdoch family only owns about 11 per cent of the company? Sure, she is the non-executive chairman but when BRW estimates the Calvert-Jones family is worth about $300 million, surely spending $3000 on a flash new laptop isn’t too much to ask.

Peter Fray

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