James Murdoch Flexes His ESG Chops At Tribeca Festival Q&A

The renegade scion of the Fox News-owning Murdoch family, James, vigorously showcased his commitment to social and environmental causes Friday in an interview with Walmart CEO Doug McMillon at the Tribeca Festival.

James acquired the festival’s parent company Tribeca Enterprises in 2019 through his investment company Lupa Systems. The youngest son of Rupert and brother of Lachlan Murdoch is the object of intense interest for his family background and his break a year ago with the News Corp. empire they run. But surprisingly he was the one doing the interviewing at an event called TribecaX, focused on branded content and the intersection of business and entertainment. His line of questioning however, hitting corporate responsibility and the retail giant’s stance on gun sales and climate change, made clear his most pressing interests.

Murdoch quit the board of News Corp last July, saying it was “due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions.” He’s invested tens of millions of dollars in progressive causes and political candidates.

How did Walmart make the decision about guns, Murdoch wanted to know, referring the company’s move to stop selling certain kinds of firearms and ammunition after a mass shooting at an El to Paso Walmart in 2019. “That was really tough,” said McMillon. “But what is happening now in the country is not OK.”

“We are a retailer and we want to serve everyone.. It’s very hard to navigate. You think about your brand, your stakeholders, your customers.” People making the 160 million transaction Walmart sees a week in the U.S. “look like America, so they are as diverse as America,” said McMillon, who also wears the hat of head of the Business Round Table, a group influential CEOs.

He said listening to critics in part resulted in a major commitment to slash carbon emissions by 2030 that is actually saving money. And Walmart’s focus on pay equity will have a positive long term impact on the company. He said he tells shareholders, “You have to watch the whole movie, you can’t just look at the still,” — rare film reference despite the festival digs. Tribeca and Walmart partnered last summer on driven-ins set up at Walmart parking lots across the country.

“You have to make those choices. When we announced wage investments the first time, we lost $21 billion in market cap in a day,” McMillon said. It recovered.

In one of the only references to his former moguldom — although he didn’t mention where or when — Murdoch, was like, yeah, once “I had to deliver a long-term strategic investment plan to shareholders and by the time I got on the stage and was leaving the stage we lost 24% of our market cap. We came back. We did great, but I used to tell people, ‘You haven’t lived unless you’ve done that.”

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