02.26.09 3:31 PM ET
Will Peter Chernin Take Over Apple?
The talk around the pool at Barry Diller’s annual brunch in Beverly Hills last weekend was not about who would win the Oscar the following day. It was about what Peter Chernin would do once he left News Corp.
Everybody there—including Rupert Murdoch, who wandered among the moguls and machers—knew that Chernin was about to announce his departure, which came officially on Monday. So what’s next for an A-level executive like Peter Chernin?
Anything he wants.
One rampant rumor was that Chernin might take over Apple, since Steve Jobs is on leave and his future there is uncertain. Getting Chernin for Apple would kind of seem like a stroke of genius.
By all accounts, the News Corp. veteran intends to take the next six months to cure malaria.
Really. He spends a lot of time at his nonprofit group Malaria No More, and Chernin wants to focus on that intensively with his friends Bill and Melinda Gates. So that means he won’t be taking a regular job, or seeking to take over another company, any time in the immediate future. The 57-year-old executive also remains under contract at News Corp. until the end of June, and has promised to help the transition team there.
But after that? The world is his oyster.
In executive suites, and mahogany-paneled lunchrooms, in the waiting rooms of private-jet terminals and in lunch spots from The Grill to Michael’s, the latest media parlor game is speculation over what Chernin might do.
Nobody thinks that he’ll actually do what’s in his exit clause, which is sit around and produce movies for Fox. One rampant rumor at Diller’s luncheon was that Chernin might take over Apple, since Steve Jobs is so apparently ill, on leave and his future there is uncertain. Getting Chernin for Apple would kind of seem like a stroke of genius. But one knowledgeable person tells me this rumor is false.
Others are suggesting that Chernin should consider going to Disney, where Chief Executive Bob Iger is young but has no obvious successor if some unexpected event were to take him out of the picture. The infighting at Disney between CFO Tom Staggs, ABC chief Anne Sweeney and other top dogs would make an outsider candidate welcome news to Wall Street. And Dick Cook, who runs the movie studio, has nothing like the experience and breadth of a Peter Chernin.
But Chernin might not want to stay in Old Media.