Star's Paul Aiello

And other people news in Greater China

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HONG KONG--Star Group surprised Asia media watchers late last week with the resignation of CEO Michelle Guthrie, 41, who led the Hong Kong-based News Corp. division for the past six years.

Star's current president, Paul Aiello, 42, will take over the top role at Star, the world's largest pay-TV operator with 300 million viewers in 53 countries, on March 1. Since he joined the company last June, he has been responsible for developing strategic and business directions and overseeing Star's overall corporate functions.

Neither executive could be reached for comment. Mr. Aiello has done “an exceptional job” at Star, said News Corp.'s chairman-CEO, Rupert Murdoch, in a statement, “leading its corporate team and overseeing its overall growth strategy. Paul's business acumen, strong leadership and financial skills as well as in-depth knowledge of the diverse and complex media and telecommunications industries in Asia make him the ideal candidate to steer the long-term growth and success of the company.”

Before he joined News Corp, the New York native was in charge of Morgan Stanley's telecom, media and technology group in Asia/Pacific. In that Hong Kong-based role, he provided strategic and investment advice to Star for more than five years.

Earlier, he held other positions at Morgan Stanley, including chief operating officer of its investment-banking unit in Asia/Pacific. He was also a senior member of its regional mergers & acquisitions team. He has also worked for CS First Boston, The World Bank and Beijing Jeep Corp., a joint venture of DaimlerChrysler and Beijing Automobile Industry Corp. in Beijing. Mr. Aiello holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

Since Richard Li, son of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, launched Star in 1991, the pay-TV platform has been expanded across the region. Star broadcasts 62 channels in nine languages, but its major strength is in India. During Ms. Guthrie's tenure, Star posted profitable results through double-digit growth for several years, and launched new channels like Star One and Star Utsav in India. (See also “Star CEO Guthrie,” October 24, 2005.)

News Corp. saw Star as an entry point to China's massive TV population as well as India's media market when it acquired the company in 1994. But that dream hasn't panned out. Despite years of appeasing China's political leadership, Star has made little progress. In fact, it has been increasingly blocked from China's TV market over the past two years as the government cracked down on gray-market cable and satellite distribution and foreign investment in entertainment companies.

While it's not clear what led to Ms. Guthrie's resignation, Asian media analysts point to Star's problems in China and failure to grow there--even though her predecessor, Mr. Murdoch's younger son James, was no more successful when he held the high-profile position.

“Her time was up,” said one Asia media analyst. ”There was a falling out internally over how China has worked out. News Corp. also felt Star was not getting stronger in India and it wasn’t expanding fast enough in Japan and Korea, mainly acquisitions of new media businesses. The new CEO is a banker with M&A experience who will probably try to grow the company non-organically.”

Expanding Star in China, Korea and Japan now falls to Mr. Aiello, although it is unlikely he will find the position less challenging than it was for Ms. Guthrie, a Chinese-American executive with a similar background. Before taking the top job at Star, she spent three years there in business development. Before that, she worked at pay-TV broadcasters like Foxtel in Australia and BSkyB in the U.K., after a stint as a lawyer in Sydney and Singapore, where she focused on the media and technology sector.

Mr. Aiello's promotion is not the only major change taking place at Star, suggesting that News Corp. hopes a management shuffle will bring a fresh, revenue-boosting perspective to Asia. The company's chief operating officer, Steve Askew, has taken an extended medical leave of absence, and Star sources predict he will not return to the company.

Star also appointed a new China CEO last October, Jack Gao, who is now responsible for strategic and business development while also overseeing day-to-day operations in the mainland. His predecessor Jamie Davis became managing director of ESPN Star Sports in August 2005.

There may also be changes in India, where local press reported this week that Star's CEO for India, Peter Mukerjea, and Sameer Nair, CEO of Star Entertainment, have resigned. Star's corporate affairs department in Hong Kong dismissed those reports as “rumors.”


Other people news in Greater China

[hong kong] Next Media, one of Hong Kong's largest print media companies, has promoted Stephen Ting Ka Yu, 47, to CEO from chief operating officer. Mr. Ting joined the company as as chief financial officer of its Apple Daily newspaper in 1997. The company was founded by Hong Kong publishing veteran Jimmy Lai, who revolutionized the territory's staid newspaper industry with racy tabloid antics in the 1990s. Apple Daily is Hong Kong's second most popular newspaper and its Next Magazine is one of the most renowned weekly news magazines, but the company has struggled to turn a profit in recent years as readers have turned to the internet for news and information.





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