Packer’s right hand: John Alexander wields the knife at uneasy Crown

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At Fairfax and later at Packer’s ACP magazines, he was known to play favourites, splitting his staff into an A-team and B-team. The A-team would be handsomely paid, escorted to long lunches at some of the city’s best Italian restaurants, no expenses spared. The others, some say, “wouldn’t be given the time of day” or worse, would be “treated with contempt”. And the two teams could fluctuate without warning from one week to the next.

“They [the A-team] were a talented bunch,” Noonan recalls, “but woe betide you if you fell out with the Prince.”

In May of 1998, JA was called to a meeting with Fairfax chief Bob Muscat, who fired him on the spot. The meeting was brief, the reasons unknown. Some have speculated it was over suspicions that he had been consorting with the enemy. He was already known to be close to the Packers, who were widely rumoured to be considering an attempt to take over Fairfax. He had been sighted on Packer snr’s 87-metre luxury cruiser, Arctic P, in Fiji with senior executives from PBL. Others say his dismissal was more to do with workplace politics.

John Alexander in his office at The Sydney Morning Herald on the day he was sacked in 1998.

John Alexander in his office at The Sydney Morning Herald on the day he was sacked in 1998.

Photo: Dean Sewell

Alexander did not stay jobless for long. He was brought into the Packer family vehicle, PBL, to run the ACP magazine stable, which at the time included Women’s Day, Women’s Weekly, Cleo and The Bulletin. In a very short space of time, he completely turned the place around, a friend says, reeling in many of his best former Fairfax colleagues, cutting costs, boosting circulation and sending profits soaring.