Patriarch of European media giant
BERLIN — Reinhard Mohn, the patriarch of European media giant Bertelsmann who turned a family run printing and publishing firm into one of the world’s biggest media congloms, died Oct. 3 following a long illness. He was 88.
He represented the fifth generation of the Bertelsmann and Mohn families to have run the company since it was set up in 1835 as a publisher of church hymns.
Mohn took over Bertelsmann following World War II, serving as CEO from 1947-81.
Early on he embraced the mail-order book business, which resulted in the publishing company’s dramatic growth during the 1950s. Mohn expanded the company beyond publishing and distribution into new sectors, building it into an international enterprise that today employees more than 100,000 people in 50 countries and operates Europe’s biggest broadcasting company, RTL.
“Bertelsmann mourns the loss of one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our age,” said Bertelsmann chairman and CEO Hartmut Ostrowski, announcing Mohn’s passing Oct. 4.
Along with his wife, Liz Mohn, Mohn remained closely involved with Bertelsmann after his retirement, serving as a member of the Bertelsmann Management Co. (BVG), which controls all Bertelsmann’s voting rights. He was also honorary chairman of the supervisory board, and sat on the board of trustees of the Bertelsmann Stiftung charitable foundation, which he founded in 1977 and which today controls 76.9% of Bertelsmann. The Mohn family holds the remaining 23.1%.
Mohn oversaw Bertelsmann’s expansion into television and music. In 1964 it acquired TV and film production company Ufa, which it merged with Luxembourg-based CLT in 1997 to create CLT-Ufa, Europe’s leading commercial TV, radio and production conglom, now known as RTL Group.
In the 1950s it moved into music with the creation of Ariola Records and later the acquisitions of Arista and RCA Victor and the creation of BMG.
Mohn’s legacy includes a corporate culture in which companies and divisions are given maximum entrepreneurial autonomy and employees are included in the decision-making process and given a share in the company’s success.
In 2007, in commemoration of the Bertelsmann Stiftung charitable foundation’s 30th anniversary, Mohn wrote: “When rebuilding Bertelsmann after the war, we asked ourselves which structures would be more humane and more successful. … We responded to the issue of capitalism’s questionable ‘justice’ by developing our own unique corporate culture.”
While guaranteeing continuity at Bertelsmann, the foundation also oversees numerous projects, from political studies and educational initiatives to cultural endeavors. In 2008 it opened the foundation’s North American arm in Washington, D.C.
“The fact that this charitable foundation is now the largest shareholder in Bertelsmann is based on Mohn’s belief that great wealth must be subordinate to the social obligations of ownership,” the foundation said.
Mohn is survived by his wife and six children.