Kiwi Tom Mockridge is no stranger to answering SOS calls from his boss, the besieged media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Fifty-six-year-old Mockridge was yesterday called in to replace former Murdoch favourite Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of his embattled British newspapers.

Brooks resigned in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

In 2002, Mockridge was in charge of Murdoch's New Zealand newspaper and television division when he received the call to leave at midnight.

Sky TV boss John Fellet remembers he didn't know Mockridge had left the country.

"He called me from Italy to say he was no longer my boss. They move quickly; we didn't get a chance to say goodbye."

In Italy as boss of Sky TV, Mockridge took on the Mafia, which had control of satellite TV piracy.

APN regional newspapers chief operating officer and acting head of content Rick Neville said his work there turned around a dog of a business.

"The Italian businesses were losing millions.

"One of the main reasons was it was relatively easy for people to hack into the system and get pay TV free."

Neville, who worked under Mockridge at INL, said his old boss installed a secure encryption system to stop the Italians ripping them off.

Though his work life flourished, his personal life suffered and he divorced Kiwi wife Jacquie a few years after the move to Milan.

"International moves are always tough on a spouse," Fellett said. "It's not exactly an easy thing to do."

Mockridge has remarried, to former Italian TV journalist Lucia Baresi. They have two young children, Filippa and Rodolfo.

He will need that family support when he arrives at News International's headquarters in Wapping, East London, with the reputation of Murdoch's papers the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times in tatters.

It's a long way from Mockridge's days as a cadet reporter with the Taranaki Daily News.

His former editor, Dennis Garcia, remembered Mockridge as someone with a lot of promise. "He was obviously a bright guy. In those days he would have been thrown into covering everything from local-body politics to flower shows."

Mockridge moved to Australia in 1980, where he worked at the Sydney Morning Herald, then as Labor leader Paul Keating's press secretary.

He turned into a commanding leader, Tim Pankhurst, former editor of the Dominion Post and now chief executive of the Newspaper Publishers' Association, said. Mockridge oversaw the merger of the Dominion and Evening Post in 2002.

"I thought he was a fantastic leader," Pankhurst said. "I was amazed at the amount of leeway he gave us."

Mockridge has a brother, Bryan, who still lives in New Zealand.