The Bertelsmann corporation began by publishing bibles, but over the company's 170 years, it transformed itself into one of the most powerful media empires on the globe. Reinhard Mohn is the man behind the company.
Reinhard Mohn with his wife, Liz
In the beginning was The Word. The origins of the Bertelsmann empire go back to 1835, when Carl Bertelsmann founded a combination print shop/publishing house in the small town of Gütersloh, in western Germany. The small press was initially dedicated to the publishing of Bibles and religious songs.
Mohn, 84, is the great-great-grandson of Bertelsmann. The company, which was closed for a time during World War II, was re-founded by Mohn after the 1945 and began a steady course of expansion that is seen as a model for business development to this day.
In 1950, Mohn began to enlarge the then-small publishing house by founding a "readers ring." Known as Der Club (The Club) today, it made its first steps abroad in 1962 in Spain with a reading circle there. Today it has 29 million members around the globe. In 1958 Mohn entered the music publishing business by founding the record label Ariola and four years later he made his first foray into the movie market by buying the UFA film production studios.
Media gia n t
Today Bertelsmann is a truly global player and one of the largest global media conglomerates in terms of revenue. The company employs over 76,000 people and its holdings include book and magazine publishing, film and music records, and online services, among others. It owns the Random House publishing giant in the US, the Gruner + Jahr group, which publishes magazine titles around the world, and half of SonyBMG record company.
Bertelsmann Foundation headquarters
Its holdings also encompass online services and other interests. The RTL television segment boasts Europe's largest TV and radio group. Sales in 2003 were 16.8 billion euros ($20.1 billion). The company operates in the EU, North and South America, Africa and Asia.
As the head of Bertelsmann, Mohn not only showed a flair for successful expansion, he also became known for a management style that fostered creativity and put employer satisfaction high on the list of priorities. Carl Bertelsmann's political and social engagement also remains one of the pillars of the Bertelsmann Foundation, which Mohn founded in 1977.
Mohn, whose wealth is estimated at 6.5 billion euros ($7.8 billion), is now retired from the media conglomerate, although his wife, Liz, came into her own last summer by taking an active role in ousting longtime CEO Thomas Middelhoff. She heads the Bertelsmann Foundation, which holds a 57.6 percent stake in the company.