Robert Sable, the executive director of Greater Boston Legal Services, has known Michael B. Elefante for nearly 20 years through Elefante’s work on the organization’s board. But it wasn’t until Sable saw news stories about Rupert Murdoch’s bid to buy Dow Jones & Co. that he realized Elefante played a pivotal role in overseeing the Bancroft family trusts, which control the venerated news organization.
“Until this stuff came out in the papers, I had no idea how deeply he was involved” in Bancroft affairs, Sable said. “Not only does Mike not toot his horn, but he’s the utter soul of discretion.”
That penchant for discretion will be put to the test next week when as many as 35 adult members of the Bancroft clan meet in Boston to debate whether to accept Murdoch’s controversial $5 billion bid for the parent company of The Wall Street Journal, a company their family has controlled for more than a century.
The proposed sale of Dow Jones to Murdoch’s News Corp. has thrust Elefante, a previously little-known Boston attorney, into the public spotlight. The fact that one of his major clients had been a virtual secret to many of his colleagues reflects both Elefante’s reserved personality and the confidential nature of his work for a small State Street law firm, Hemenway & Barnes, that specializes in managing the trusts and estates of wealthy clients.
As a member of the Dow Jones board and a trustee for one of the Bancroft family’s most influential trusts, Elefante is a crucial player in the Murdoch deal. He is also the key representative for the family, some of whom oppose a sale because they fear that the company’s journalistic standards would decline under Murdoch. But the $60 a share bid is being seriously considered at a time when the newspaper business is struggling.
When the family members meet in Boston on Monday, Elefante will handle the delicate tasks of mediating among opposing factions and balancing the needs of current and future trust beneficiaries. The time and location of the gathering have not been made public.