COLOGNE — Bertelsmann AG’s chairman of the supervisory board, Gerd Schulte-Hillen, has announced his resignation as supervisory board chairman of the group’s print unit Gruner + Jahr (G+J).
In a company statement, Schulte-Hillen said he thus complies with the corporate governance principle of avoiding two offices within one group. He will be succeeded by Bertelsmann’s CEO, Gunter Thielen, in November. Until his posting to the supervisory board, Schulte-Hillen had been G+J’s CEO for 20 years, during which the publisher tripled its sales volume and results. G+J’s flagships include weekly news mag Stern as well as the German version of the Financial Times.
Schulte-Hillen’s exit had been preceded by an open conflict in which he voiced the dissatisfaction of many Bertelsmann managers about the authoritarian leadership of founding family Mohn. In March, Bertelsmann announced that it would review his position, citing a conflict with respect to corporate governance.
The development of corporate governance guidelines in order to improve a company’s transparency have been under intense discussion among Germany’s industry leaders for a year. While it is customary that a group’s CEO may also head a subsid’s supervisory board, as will be the case with Thielen at Bertelsmann and G+J, positions at comparable boards should be avoided.
Critics argue that Bertelsmann would appear more credible if Schulte-Hillen’s voluntary resignation was followed by a disentanglement of other twin positions within the company.