As Thomson departs, new generation takes over at 'The Times'

It was a day for meteoric career rises at The Times yesterday. The editor Robert Thomson's long-anticipated departure to head Rupert Murdoch's prized latest acquisition, the Wall Street Journal, stepped into first gear. And the newspaper's youthful business editor James Harding was propelled into the editor's shoes.

After five years at the helm of The Thunderer, Mr Thomson is leaving next week to become publisher of the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Dow Jones.

Mr Harding, 38, will take over as editor with immediate effect, after the independent directors of Times Newspapers Holdings approved his promotion.

Mr Murdoch said: "Under Robert Thomson's leadership, The Times has gone from strength to strength and I am confident James is the editor to build on Robert's success. James has enjoyed an outstanding career as a correspondent and editorial executive. His experience working in Britain and around the world equips him ideally to take on the job of editing The Times."

The Australian-born Mr Thomson, 46, who will wish his staff farewell at a party on 20 December at Skylon at the Royal Festival Hall, played a key role in helping Mr Murdoch to buy the respected US business title. Mr Thomson become editor of The Times in 2002 after a spell at the Financial Times. During his time at the newspaper, he oversaw its transition from broadsheet to compact publication. A low-key, personable man, he is close to Mr Murdoch they speak on the phone most days.

His successor, James Harding, was part of Mr Thomson's clique at the Financial Times. Educated at St Paul's School in London, where he was a near contemporary of the shadow Chancellor George Osborne, and Trinity College, Cambridge, Mr Harding has a reputation as a fantastic schmoozer and is friendly with James Murdoch, who will be his boss in his new role as chairman and chief executive of News Corp in Europe and Asia.

Mr Harding is also renowned for his linguistic abilities. He is fluent in Japanese, Chinese, French and German. He joined the FT in 1994 as a corporate reporter and went on to run the Shanghai bureau from 1996 to 1999, and had stints as the paper's media editor and Washington bureau chief from 2002 to 2005.

As media editor of the FT in 2002, Mr Harding was given his first opportunity to impress Mr Murdoch when he interviewed him over a three-hour lunch at which they discussed everything from retirement to the mogul's relationship with God, touching on Bill Gates, the future of television, the British monarchy and the euro.

In August 2006, he was poached by Mr Thomson to head the business section of The Times. He is the latest in a series of business editors to climb into the editor's chair, following Will Lewis at the Daily Telegraph and Patience Wheatcroft, the recently deposed editor of the Sunday Telegraph, who was Harding's predecessor as business editor of The Times.

Mr Thomson paid tribute to his successor, saying: "I have cherished my time at The Times, which will be in the very capable hands of James Harding, one of the most outstanding British journalists of his generation."

James Murdoch, who is about to take the reins at News International, publisher of The Times, also had high praise for the newspaper's new editor. He said: "James is a tremendous journalist and executive there is no better choice to lead The Times in this exciting period. I've known, respected, and trusted James for years, and I'm looking forward to working with him."

For his part, Mr Harding said he was "delighted" to succeed Mr Thomson.

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