Packer lieutenant marches on
John Alexander's stakes in the Packer camp are changing. For a couple of years, rumours that there had been some cooling between the two men simmered around investment circles, with suggestions that Alexander's status as the Crown billionaire's key lieutenant had diminished.
These were further flamed by the expiry of Alexander's five-year contract as deputy chairman of Crown last November - with no announcement of renewal.
But there were other issues in play at that time. Packer had hatched a plan that involved Alexander joining the board of Fairfax and ultimately replacing Roger Corbett as chairman.
The proposition was put to Corbett by Packer in a private meeting on board his super yacht. According to an account of the meeting in Pamela Williams' book, Killing Fairfax, Packer attached incentives including not making a hostile bid for Fairfax.
Given Packer's public commentary about Fairfax and his general concerns about old media assets, it was a threat he was unlikely to act on. The Fairfax board, which has a fairly amicable relationship with Packer, politely turned down the offer.
Having one of Packer's operatives inside the tent could certainly have raised eyebrows.
Since then Alexander's foray back into the media has found more support from Kerry Stokes, who placed Alexander on the board of Seven West Media in May.
Packer and Stokes have been allies for several years and having Alexander at Seven could further cement that relationship.
The Seven West annual report reveals Alexander has been appointed chairman of two of its trophy subcommittees: corporate governance, and remuneration and nomination.
Alexander has plenty of worthwhile experience of media (at least print media) but the reality is, sitting on the board of a company controlled by one person (be it Stokes or Packer) is more of a chair-warming exercise. Being one of the inner sanctum of advisers is a far more powerful position.
Monday's news that Alexander's contract as executive deputy chairman of Crown has been extended indefinitely is interesting because it contains no fixed term. Thus, if Packer chose to get rid of Alexander it would be far easier (and less expensive) than it would have been under the original contract.
It looks trifling, but Alexander's almost $1.5 million salary will no longer be adjusted for annual CPI increases. That's an interesting statement in itself. Other Crown executives operate under a different payment structure, with elements of long and short-term incentives relating to performance.
Alexander's remuneration is 100 per cent base pay - which he receives regardless of Crown's profit - which reflects he has less involvement in the running of the company's casino operations.
The new contract with Alexander will involve employment handcuffs for 12 months if he leaves Crown, but it doesn't specify whether this restraint is tied to the gaming industry or any job.
The web of relationships between Packer and the other major media companies is complex. Packer and Lachlan Murdoch, whose father Rupert is the major shareholder in News Corp, are particularly close.
They are jointly the major shareholders in Ten Network alongside Gina Rinehart. Murdoch and Rinehart sit on Ten's board.
Packer, for example, chose Murdoch's Daily Telegraph as the vehicle to stage manage the announcement of his divorce from Erica Baxter.
Meanwhile, Nine is run by Packer's best friend David Gyngell.
Having Packer's factotum Alexander in the Stokes camp should suit Packer well but is not crucial.
Alexander had effectively found himself without a full-time job after Packer's Consolidated Media (which held interests in Fox Sports and Foxtel) was acquired by News Corp last year.
While Packer once relied heavily on Alexander's counsel - he was credited with advising Packer to sell out of Nine Network - the ties are no longer considered as strong.
Just before last Christmas Alexander sold half his holdings in the company, for $2.56 million, sparking rumours he was on his way out.
There has been little apparent involvement by Alexander in Crown's bid to get a second casino licence in NSW.
Perhaps Alexander's ties to the Packer empire are loosening and potentially being replaced by a new allegiance to Kerry Stokes.