Reinhard Mohn

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Bust of Reinhard Mohn (1986), Stadtmuseum Gütersloh

Reinhard Mohn (29 June 1921 – 3 October 2009) was a German businessman who turned Bertelsmann, a "provincial, war-shattered German publisher",[1] into the sixth largest media conglomerate in the world.[2]

Early life[edit]

He was born in Gütersloh, Westphalia, the fifth of six children of Heinrich Mohn. His great-great-[2][3] or great-grandfather,[4][5] Carl Bertelsmann, had founded the family publishing company in the town in 1835.

The eighteen-year-old Mohn was drafted in World War II. A lieutenant in Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, he was wounded and captured by the Americans in Tunisia in 1943.[2][4] He ended up in Camp Concordia, a prisoner of war camp in Kansas. There, he learned English, as well as American business practices.[2][4]

Business career[edit]

When he was released and returned home in 1946, his father persuaded him to work in the family business. The premises had been destroyed by Allied bombing.[2] Though his father had been a supporter of[4][6] and possibly donator to the Nazis and [1] the SS, the company was able to obtain a publishing permit from the occupying British. Nearly half a century later, Austrian journalist Hersch Fischler determined that the company had, contrary to its official version of its wartime activities, worked closely with the Nazi regime from the 1930s through the war, and had probably employed Jewish slave labour at some of its plants.[1][4][5][7] Reinhard Mohn however denied being involved in the company's operations during World War II.

Mohn ran the company as chief executive officer from 1947 to 1981.[3] Initially short of capital, he raised it from the employees by offering them a profit sharing arrangement,[4] earning him the nickname "Red Mohn".[3] He introduced the American concept of the book club with great success in 1950; within four years, he had over a million subscribers.[5] He expanded into Spain in 1962 with the Círculo de Lectores (Readers' Circle). The revenue from book club sales enabled him to acquire other publishing companies, including Bantam Books, Doubleday, and Random House; record labels, such as RCA Victor; and radio and television chains, including Germany's RTL Television and 90% of Britain's Channel Five.[4] He took the company public in 1971.[3]

He retired in 1981, but became alarmed at the direction in which one of his successors, Thomas Middelhoff, was taking the firm and ousted Middelhoff in 2002.[8] The family reasserted its control.

He has appeared numerous times on Forbes magazine's list of the richest people in the world.[9] In March 2009, Forbes estimated that Mohn and his family were worth $2.5 billion, good enough to make them the 261st wealthiest family in the world.[5]

He maintained a low-profile, "self-effacing"[4] style of management, allowing his subordinates great latitude.[1] Despite his great wealth, he often lunched in the staff canteen.

Mohn set up the non-profit Bertelsmann Foundation to promote social and political reform in 1977.[4] In 1993, he endowed it with 69% of his Bertelsmann shares,[3] though the voting shares were held by another company, half of whose directors were from his family.[2]

Personal life[edit]

He was married twice. He had a son, Johannes, and two daughters with his first wife, Magdalene, whom he married in 1949. At the age of 38, he met seventeen-year-old switchboard operator Liz Beckmann at a company function. They had two sons, Christoph and Andreas, and a daughter, Brigitte, and eventually married in 1982.

He died on 3 October 2009 at the age of 88. He was survived by his second wife and his six children.

Honors[edit]

Reinhard Mohn was recognized with the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1994, and the Order of Merit with Star in 1998.[5] He was made an honorary member of the Club of Rome in 1996,[5] awarded the Premio Príncipe de Asturias in Communication and Humanities in 1998, and given an honorary doctorate from the University of Münster in 2001.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Carter Dougherty (October 4, 2009). "Reinhard Mohn, 88, Dies; Built Bertelsmann Into a Giant". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Reinhard Mohn, German media magnate, died on October 3rd, aged 88". The Economist. 15 October 2009. Retrieved 29 October 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Christian Vits and Claudia Rach (October 5, 2009). "Reinhard Mohn, Postwar Bertelsmann AG Founder, Dies". Bloomberg. Retrieved October 30, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dan van der Vat (21 October 2009). "Reinhard Mohn obituary". The Guardian. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Martin Childs (3 November 2009). "Reinhard Mohn: Publisher who transformed the fortunes of Bertelsmann after the Second World War". The Independent. 
  6. ^ "Reinhard Mohn: businessman who revived Bertelsmann". The Sunday Times. 9 October 2009. 
  7. ^ Saeed Shah (9 October 2002). "The dark secret kept hidden for 50 years: how a global media empire was built on a lie". The Independent. 
  8. ^ Thomas Schuler (October 2008). "A New Leading Lady / Bertelsmann owner Reinhard Mohn decides who is next in line". The Atlantic Times. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 
  9. ^ "Reinhard Mohn & family". Forbes magazine. Retrieved October 29, 2010.