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Dow Jones CEO's abrupt exit throws strategy into doubt

CEO of Dow Jones, Lex Fenwick speaks during an interview in his New York offices July 20, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
CEO of Dow Jones, Lex Fenwick speaks during an interview in his New York offices July 20, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Jennifer Saba

NEW YORK (Reuters) - News Corp said Lex Fenwick was leaving as chief executive of Dow Jones, less than two years after taking the helm, an abrupt departure that calls into question the future of its news wires and other products aimed at financial institutions.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which owns Dow Jones, did not explain the departure but said it was reviewing the one-size-fits-all strategy Fenwick had put in place for its news wires and other products. The bundled product offering that resulted, known as DJX, alienated some of the banks, hedge funds and retail brokers that were its main customers because of its rigid pricing structure.

"We're reviewing the institutional strategy of Dow Jones with an eye towards changes that will deliver even more value to its customers," News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson said in a statement on Tuesday.

News Corp said that William Lewis will take over as interim CEO. Lewis worked at News Corp's British newspaper unit and the Financial Times.

Fenwick, 54, was appointed CEO of Dow Jones - publisher of The Wall Street Journal - in February 2012 after more than two decades at Bloomberg LP and did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

He was seen by some as a controversial leader, known for his hard-charging style and expletive-laced outbursts, who was tasked with overhauling Dow Jones' institutional business. Following his arrival, a significant number of senior executives left the company.

People familiar with Dow Jones said that Fenwick staked Dow Jones' turnaround on a product that was supposed to challenge Bloomberg as one of the dominant suppliers of financial news and data. Known as DJX, it essentially pulled all of Dow Jones offerings like news database Factiva and the real-time news wires on a single platform for one price.

It was a risky move: customers were used to cherry-picking from Dow Jones' lineup of products and negotiating on price - a matter where Fenwick was unbending, taking a page from his former employer, where refusing to discount has paid off.

Thomson was quoted in the statement as saying the media company was "planning improvements to DJX" and said greater flexibility in its product offerings was likely in the near term.

DJX was launched last year and had yet to gain traction in the marketplace. During News Corp's past earnings reports, the company had flagged weakness at Dow Jones' institutional division. Several financial customers expressed concern last year over plans for DJX - especially its higher cost, according to people familiar with the matter.

Like Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters competes with Dow Jones in providing news and financial data to banks and other financial institutions.

Known for his purple suits and taste for modern art, Fenwick imposed his flashy style on the more button-down atmosphere of Dow Jones. He tore down office walls to create an open floor plan, installed a low-hanging crystal chandelier, and provided pricey espresso machines that one person familiar with the matter said cost about $30,000.

Rob Copeland, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal quipped on Twitter after the news was announced: ".@newscorp CEO confirms: @WSJsnackbar coffee machines sticking around."

Fenwick spent most of his career at Bloomberg, where he was known as a master salesman who rose to the top ranks to lead the financial news and data company. He was CEO of Bloomberg LP until 2008, when he was demoted to lead Bloomberg Ventures.

It is unclear if Lewis will eventually get the top job at Dow Jones where a search is underway. Some people familiar with the matter predict that Lewis will remain in the role. At a meeting where Thomson introduced Lewis to the newsroom, Thomson never used the word interim.

Lewis was recruited to lead News Corp's management and standards committee in the wake of the phone hacking scandal from 2011 to 2012. He was named chief creative officer of News Corp last year when the company split from its cable TV and movie properties now under 21st Century Fox.

(Editing by Andre Grenon, Nick Zieminski, Eric Walsh and Jeremy Laurence)

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