The world’s richest media magnate is Canada’s David Thomson – from the family who lost the UK’s Times newspapers to Rupert Murdoch

David Thomson is the boss of the family-owned Thomson Corporation that owns financial information firm Thomson Reuters and Canada’s Globe and Mail national newspaper.

Like his father and grandfather he likes to keep a low profile, but hasn’t he done well? Worth $23bn according to Forbes magazine.

Grandfather Lord Thomson of Fleet made a fortune in the UK out of Scottish Television, one of the original franchisees in ITV dating back to the 1950s. In an unguarded moment he referred to it as “a licence to print money,” which indeed it was.

The Canadian Thomson clan also owned a British local newspaper empire and, in due course, The Times and the Sunday Times. Under the Thomsons the Sunday Times had its great era under editor Harry Evans when it broke the story about the Thalidomide scandal and numerous other world scoops besides.

Alas the print unions of the times didn’t see life in quite such terms and the Thomsons’ national titles were eventually becalmed by a year-long strike in the early 1980s. I can recall interviewing Lord Thomson’s son Kenneth about this sad state of affairs in an eerily deserted Sunday Times office on London’s Gray’s Inn Road.

The Thomsons eventually gave up on what was clearly a bad job, retired gracefully and sold the papers to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, amid much controversy.

Rupert then launched his celebrated break for freedom with his union-free new Wapping printing plant, supposedly breaking the power of the unions for ever and ushering in an era of profit for UK national papers. This was in 1986.

And to an extent it did, for the Sunday Times anyway if not The Times.

Rupert one, Thomsons nil, we all thought.

Well it didn’t quite work out that way. The Thomsons quietly regrouped around the Globe and Mail and a financial information business which merged with rival Reuters a few years ago.

Now Thomson Reuters is making so much dosh that David Thomson, Lord Thomson’s grandson, is the world’s richest media magnate according to Forbes, which produces an annual list of these things. Way richer, in fact, than Rupert Murdoch.

I’ve never met David Thomson. But his father Kenneth was a civilised man who was genuinely distressed that his great UK newspapers were unable to carry on the good work.

But being a good businessman too he knew the right time to sell.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.