James Packer's former right-hand man and deputy executive chairman of Crown Ltd, John Alexander, has tapped into a new potentially rich corporate vein to promote his ambitions in Australian media. He is joining the board of the Kerry Stokes-controlled Seven West Media.
It has set industry tongues wagging that he might be moved to an executive role taking on duties of the print and television empire, which includes a stake in the Seven Network and West Australian Newspapers. This is fertile ground for the talented and fiercely ambitious Alexander, who has been somewhat underemployed since the end of last year when Packer sold his media company, Consolidated Media Holdings. Alexander had been the executive chairman of Consolidated Media - an investment company with interests in Fox Sports and Foxtel.
In December Alexander sold half his stake in Crown, netting him $2.5 million.
Hitching his star to the Stokes wagon presents many possibilities and closes off others. Until recently he was considered a contender for the board of Fairfax Media and potentially even its chairman - a move that was said to be supported and even pushed by Packer.
Alexander is considered by media insiders to have been courting Stokes for some time. He is well known to the family after having shared a directorship on Consolidated Media with Stokes' son, Ryan Stokes.
His move into this camp comes at a particularly interesting time given Seven West's chief executive Don Voelte is not viewed as a long-term contender for the position. There has also been talk that there are management changes afoot at Seven West's parent organisation, Seven Group. Its chief executive Peter Gammell is rumoured to be looking to bow out of the industry, leaving the running of the listed empire to Ryan Stokes.
Thus the move by Alexander to join the Seven West board should not be viewed as a simple non-executive appointment.
Stokes has worn some criticism by investors in Seven West and Seven Group for promoting his family interests and having insufficient media expertise among the board and management ranks. Alexander's history suggests he may play a far more political role in the Stokes empire.
In 1998 Alexander was sacked from the Herald by Fairfax chief executive Bob Muscat, who himself was turfed out only weeks later. Soon after Alexander arrived at Packer's PBL and ultimately replaced its chief executive Peter Yates, in doing so taking his place as Packer's trusted lieutenant.
He helped Packer steer through one of the great investment decisions in Australian history, the top-of-the-market divestment of Channel Nine. The later investment of some of these proceeds into a grab bag of US regional casinos - either rightly or wrongly - is thought to have been blamed on Alexander.
The bottom line is Alexander is adept at satisfying the masters he serves. He is a veteran of working for the Packers - senior and junior - and is well qualified to repeat the service under the Stokes regime.