Ready to go public

Lambert may float Bertelsmann stake

BERLIN — A chunk of German media giant Bertelsmann may be headed for the stock market.

Belgian holding company Groupe Bruxelles Lambert is mulling floating its 25% stake in the privately owned company, which controls pan-European broadcaster RTL Group, publisher Random House and half of Sony BMG Music Entertainment.

The Mohn family controls the other 75% and shows no signs of parting with it.

GBL may seek the public listing late May or early June “if the market conditions are favorable,” the company said Friday.

The stake could go for E5.4 billion ($6.6 billion), according to local estimates. With Bertelsmann’s wide-ranging international media assets, it shares would likely attract plenty of investors.

Bertelsmann has annual revenues of around $20 billion with profits of $1.2 billion.

Bertelsmann chief exec Gunter Thielen said that the Guetersloh-based group was “prepared for an IPO.”

In 2001, Bertelsmann swapped a quarter of its equity with fellow RTL shareholder GBL for control of the broadcasting group with the agreement that GBL could float the stake within a few years.

At the time, Bertelsmann execs made it clear that no more than 25% would be made public.

Despite being Europe’s biggest media group, Bertelsmann has remained a traditional, privately held company since it was founded in 1835 as a publisher of hymn books.

Family patriarch Reinhard Mohn expanded Bertelsmann after World War II through book and music clubs and later into magazines through its publishing division Gruner + Jahr.

In 2002 the Mohns ousted former CEO Thomas Middelhoff, who, after a spending spree of more than $5.5 billion, wanted to take the company public.

Bertelsmann execs have indicated in the past that the company would not prevent an IPO or buy back the GBL stake.

In recent years Bertelsmann has expanded its TV holdings across Europe: RTL owns 34 TV channels and 30 radio stations in 11 countries, with major webs in Germany, the U.K., France and Russia.

In 1998, it acquired Random House, the world’s leading book publisher with best-selling titles such as “The Da Vinci Code” and Bill Clinton’s “My Life.”

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