Exec replaces current topper Hartmut Ostrowski

In a surprise reshuffle, German media giant Bertelsmann has upped chief financial officer Thomas Rabe to chairman and CEO, effective January.

He replaces Hartmut Ostrowski, who is stepping down for personal reasons after four years. Ostrowski will join the supervisory board, a Bertelsmann spokesman said, adding the “change takes place amicably and by mutual consent.”

A new CFO will be announced at a later date.

Bertelsmann, whose main assets include pan-European broadcasting and production powerhouse RTL Group, U.S. publishing giant Random House, and Gruner and Jahr, Europe’s biggest magazine publisher, is on a solid footing.

Last year it exceeded its profit forecast as earnings skyrocketed from €35 million ($47.8 million) to $895 million, while revenue rose 4.5% to $21.56 million. In the first half of this year the group saw earnings increase nearly 10% to $367 million as sales climbed 2% to $9.8 billion.

Rabe has been Bertelsmann’s CFO and head of its corporate center since 2006. Before that, he held the same post at RTL Group. In addition to his duties as finance chief, Rabe is also responsible for Bertelsmann’s corporate investments, which include the holding in music rights company BMG, the Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments and Bertelsmann Asia Investments funds.

Gunter Thielen, former CEO and current chairman of the supervisory board, said of Rabe, “We are sure that in him, we have an entrepreneur at the top who will lend further momentum to Bertelsmann’s growth strategy and future development.”

Thielen also praised the outgoing CEO. “Bertelsmann owes Hartmut Ostrowski a great debt of gratitude. He led the company in difficult times. I look forward to continuing to work with him on the supervisory board. The timing of the changeover ensures that the passing of the baton to Thomas Rabe will be handled smoothly.”

Ostrowski, who joined Bertelsmann in 1982, became CEO of the group’s service company Arvato in 2002 and replaced Thielen as group topper in 2008.

He steered Bertelsmann through the economic crisis, paid down debt to the target level and expanded the Arvato unit, which grew out of Bertelsmann’s printing arm, into an international services company with some 63,000 employees worldwide.

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