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Business

Steadying the Ship at Bertelsmann

Thomas Middelhoff’s successor at Bertelsmann is a loyal company man who enjoys the type of trust from the influential Mohn family Middelhoff never did.

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Steady as she goes

It is telling that Gunter Thielen, the successor to hard-charging Bertelsmann modernizer Thomas Middelhoff comes from the Bertelsmann Foundation.


The Gütersloh-based foundation, the largest stakeholder in the world’s fifth-largest media company, is the brainchild of company patriarch Reinhard Mohn, who had reportedly put up a stiff opposition to Middelhoff’s plans to list the company on the stock exchange in the coming years.

Steadying the ship


On Monday, financial papers were reporting the opposition led to the departure of Middelhoff, 49, who had an ambitious plan that, according to reports, clashed with the visions of chairman emeritus Reinhard Mohn (photo) and his supporters in the company.

Reinhard Mohn

Reinhard Mohn, founder of the Bertelsmann foundation during his speech at the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the foundation in the German town of Guetersloh on Wednesday, March13, 2002. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) (Photo für Kalenderblatt)

Now Mohn’s successor at the foundation and confidant Thielen is the company’s new point man. Thielen, 59, takes over a sleeping giant in the media industry. Bertelsmann AG, broke their previous profit earnings last year with a mark of 4.16 billion euro ($4.10).

The company owns Random House, the world’s largest publishing house, RTL, Europe’s largest broadcaster and record label BMG, among other companies and has been largely unaffected by the turbulence affecting fellow giants such as Vivendi and AOL Time Warner.

It is for that very reason Middelhoff, with his ambitious plans, was pushed aside and the decidedly more conservative Thielen brought in to steady the ship, according to one expert.

“Gunter Thilelen stands for continuity,” said Helmut Thoma, a media expert who once headed RTL, in an interview with DW-WORLD. “He has shown success with his responsiblities in the past. He enjoys trust from all the company heads.”

A "miserable self-promoter" but successful

The quiet, hard-working Thielen has made leaps up the career ladder in recent years that have sometimes taken even Germany’s business reporters by surprise. Manager Magazine listed Thielen this year as a manager to look out for.


”The most miserable self-promoter on the Bertelsmann board has become one of the most important German media managers,” wrote the magazine in May.

After joining Bertelsmann as a managing director of one of the company’s printing plants in 1980, he took control of Bertelsmann’s print and manufacturing division, since re-named Arvato, in 1985. He expanded the division’s portfolio to include editing and layout services, call and service centers and e-commerce.

Today, Arvato AG has annual revenues of more than 3 billion euro and a staff of 29,000 and Thielen sits on Bertelsmann’s board of directors.
He had actually planned to give up the position in August in order to focus full time on running the foundation, which he took over from Mohn in October 2001.

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