From topper to tycoon

The new battle lines being drawn by Hollywood’s most recent round of mega-mergers seemingly skewer the one man happily allied to all the combatants: German media tycoon Herbert Kloiber.

Miraculously, the veteran film rights dealer is likely not only to emerge unscathed, he will probably turn a tricky high-wire act into another triumph for the small independent production company he acquired and built into a first-class media power, Tele-Munchen Gruppe (TMG).

These days, as TMG turns 25, Kloiber is somehow connected to everyone making headlines in Hollywood.

The Walt Disney Co. will become Kloiber’s de facto partner. Their announced takeover of CapCities/ABC will give them ownership of that company’s 50% stake in Tele-Munchen, acquired in 1989 for an estimated $10 million.

Should Turner and Time Warner somehow marry, they’ll have a threesome with Kloiber. Tele-Munchen’s theatrical subsidiary, the distribution company Concorde, merged last year with Turner to become “Concorde Castle Rock-Turner.”

In addition, Kloiber personally has been CBS’ exclusive sales agent for the German-speaking territories in Europe for the last decade, and since last year, also has represented Westinghouse in the same capacity.

But the finesse required to bring such entangling alliances into profitable harmony is the very hallmark of Herbert G. Kloiber, a man with the manners of a diplomat and the commercial reflexes of a commodities trader.

In Germany, he has been pulling this sort of balancing act off ever since he left a managing director’s post at Unitel in November 1976, following “a small dispute” with the company’s owner and the man who first took the young law graduate under his wing: Leo Kirch.

After a bitter rivalry in TMG’s early years, relations with Kirch have mellowed. Ironically, Kirch-owned Unitel will probably relicense material from Kloiber for a classical music lover’s channel.

There are few people better groomed for the art of being all things to all people. A German taxpayer with an Austrian passport and a Swiss education, Kloiber speaks French, German and English in mellifluous, aristocratic tones. (His Spanish and Italian are a notch behind).

That ambassadorial charm helps him get away with the unthinkable in Germany. Kloiber is somehow immune to those unwritten rules: His Tele-Munchen controls RTL2 (with publisher Bauer), yet produces a weekly show about hypnosis for rival PRO 7.

An avid sportsman, Kloiber clearly enjoys such maneuvering – he competed on the professional downhill skiing circuit back in the days when racers flicked away their cigarettes before crashing the opening gate – and TMG has recently secured output deals with MGM/UA, Rysher Entertainment and a host of independents.

“We take a very pragmatic approach to business and I keep the running of my business apart from the running of my personal life,” says Kloiber when asked how he manages to toe the line. “I’m a fairly partnerable person because I don’t have 2000% of my blood and emotion invested in every deal. I have fun.”

That image – savvy but detached – is easy to glimpse if you catch Kloiber in his Munich office. Making calls from a leather recliner, he seems to lounge amid the symbols of his passions, which decorate his office: an ancient nickelodeon in front of the desk and two first-rate Cy Twomblys on the wall behind him. But it is his business acumen, not his social polish, that has earned Kloiber respect from players who don’t otherwise tend to agree with one another.

For instance, when RTL was close to signing its recent $240 million output deal with Warner Bros., shareholder Bertelsmann’s chief executive on the deal, BMG Entertainment head Michael Dornemann, took a long lunch with Kloiber before restructuring the agreement.

CLT chief executive Michel Delloye and Klaus Hallig – the Kirch Group’s man in the U.S. (and best man at Kloiber’s wedding) – also seek his ear. As one Warner Bros. exec put it, “He’s like the town shrink.”

“In a market where these enormous American players and giants like Kirch are active, I have very, very high respect for the way in which Kloiber figured out how to take a relatively small enterprise and turn it into a successful film and television company with as outstanding a partner as Cap Cities/ABC. That demands respect,” says Dornemann. “Personally, I think it’s fun to negotiate and do deals with him.”

At 47, Kloiber is just hitting his prime (Herbert Jr., the 18-year-old heir apparent, just started an internship at TMG) and will certainly weather this round of merger mania as well as the next.

As Klaus Hallig put it, “There’s one thing you can say about Herbert: He has never taken any duke from anyone, and he certainly won’t from these guys – not Disney and certainly not Eisner.”

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