Headhunters appointed to find chief for BSkyB

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The Independent Online

The internal revolt against James Murdoch becoming chief executive of British Sky Broadcasting is likely to gather pace this week after the appointment of a headhunting company to find a candidate for the position.

The independent directors at BSkyB have instructed an international recruitment company to conduct a worldwide search for a new chief executive for the satellite television group, according to weekend press reports.

It is thought that the global executive search company Spencer Stuart will draw up a list of candidates from the United States and the UK to replace Tony Ball, who announced last week that he will step down as chief executive of BSkyB when a successor is appointed.

The move is seen as a clear signal to James' father Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of BSkyB and 35 per cent shareholder, that he can not expect to slide his 30-year-old son into the top seat at the company without a fight.

Mr Murdoch would like to have James in the job by the company's annual general meeting in November, but the non-executives and other shareholders are determined not to make the succession of the younger Murdoch a fait accompli.

Shareholders in BSkyB, including Barclays Global Investors, Standard Life Investments and Legal & General, are making strong representations to the board's nominations committee, voicing concerns about giving James Murdoch the job.

Lord St John of Fawsley, the senior non-executive on the board, is understood to be meeting the National Association of Pension Funds, a champion of corporate governance, to address its concerns over BSkyB's recruitment process.

Allan Leighton, the chairman of Royal Mail, and Gail Rebuck, the chairman of the publisher Random House, have recently been appointed to BSkyB's nominations committee.

It is unlikely that the search for such a senior executive conducted via a head hunter would be completed within the next six weeks. A spokesman for BSkyB declined to comment yesterday.