We shouldn’t really be surprised by Lachlan Murdoch’s decision to do his own thing – Rupert’s preferred heir to the News Corp throne is only the latest in a long line of sons of wealthy dads to decide to get a life.

The 1998 Harvey Norman AGM provided an interesting spectacle when billionaire Gerry Harvey told startled shareholders that his son Michael and preferred heir to the retailing fortune had “dogged it” and gone off to do his own thing. Unlike Lachlan, Michael Harvey doesn’t even serve on the board as a non-executive director.

Another example is David Lowy who quit his shopping centre mogul duties to spend more time riding motorbikes. David bowed out as a Westfield executive in 2000 and became the non-executive deputy chairman who also spends part of his time managing the family’s investment portfolio away from retail.

What about the seven sons of Aristocrat founder Len Ainsworth? By the time the company went public in 1996, all the boys bar one were out of the company.

Clyde Packer’s decision to bow out and hand over the family fortune to his younger brother Kerry is probably the most famous example of an Australian heir who “dogged it” and the Murdoch family is no doubt acutely aware of this piece of media history. Clyde was regarded as the smart, sensitive brother with the cleverness to run Nine and Kerry ran the papers (The Daily and Sunday Telegraph before Rupert bought them in 1973) and the magazines. However, after their father died, the far tougher Kerry triumphed.

Lachlan’s brother James, now running BSKYB in Britain, would seem to be a better candidate for the Clyde Packer analogy with his image as a music lover, a bit of a rebel (now with a cause) and not seemingly as corporate as Lachlan, who defined himself and revealed his passion for newspapers in this 2002 Andrew Olle speech in Sydney for the ABC.

The pugnacious Lachlan would have pleased his father that night, but three more years of working on the same floor as his driven father in New York was clearly too much.

Send suggestions for our “famous heirs who dogged it” list to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey