Media Scion James Murdoch Now Owns a Controlling Stake in MCH Group, Art Basel’s Struggling Parent Company

The decision comes days after the younger Murdoch resigned from News Corp due to "disagreements over editorial content."

James Murdoch. Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for National Geographic.
James Murdoch. Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for National Geographic.

Shareholders of Art Basel’s parent company, MCH Group, have agreed to a package of stabilizing measures put forward by its board of directors earlier this month. All of its proposals, including a much-discussed cash infusion from media scion James Murdoch, passed in an Extraordinary General Meeting this morning, August 3, and MCH can now begin to implement them.

The proposed measures for financial recovery include steps to restructure its debt, but the main focus was an enormous suggested infusion of CHF 74.5 million (about $80 million) from James Murdoch, the younger son of News Corp founder Rupert Murdoch.

The proposal, which would make Murdoch the Swiss company’s new “anchor shareholder” had courted controversy because of his association with his father’s rightwing mass media corporation, and many thought that could be enough to sink the deal. But more than 70 percent of the company’s shareholders who voted—a total of 848 shareholders representing some 91.2 percent of the nominal share value—took a favorable position towards the proposals this morning.

The consensus might have been helped along by the last-minute announcement on Saturday that Murdoch, who had been considered somewhat of a dissenting voice at his father’s company, had resigned from News Corp’s board of directors. In his resignation letter, Murdoch cited “disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions.” A statement from his father and brother, both News Corps executives, wished him “the very best in his future endeavors.”

MCH shareholders also elected Murdoch alongside Eleni Lionaki and Jeff Palker to the board of directors. Palker and Lionake are both associates from Lupa Systems, Murdoch’s private-investment firm through which the deal is being executed. Lupa Systems will now be allowed to hold up to 49 percent of the shares, and the board also approved two proposed capital increases for a total of up to CHF 104.5 million (about $114 million).

“The measures approved today are crucial steps towards strengthening the financial position of MCH Group, Art Basel’s parent company,” Art Basel’s global director Marc Spiegler, tells Artnet News. “At a time when the entire exhibitions industry faces enormous challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a very positive development.”

The financial restructuring is happening at a difficult time for the company, which was facing financial difficulty even before the economic impact of the pandemic on the events industry. MCH recently announced that it is expecting sales to halve in 2020, projecting an annual loss in the tens of millions.

“The majority of shareholders have recognized that this overall package is urgently needed to secure the future of the company,” MCH board chairman Ulrich Vischer said in a statement. “We are relieved to have received the support of the shareholders, who have spoken out in the interests of the company, our stakeholders, and the economic regions of Basel and Zurich.”

MCH’s chief executive Bernd Stadlwieser, added that the company was “very pleased” with the results of the meeting, and that measures must now be implemented “without further delay.” He also urged those shareholders who had opposed the move to work with MCH on the transition.


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