Mathias Döpfner

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Mathias Döpfner

Mathias Döpfner (born 15 January 1963) is a German business executive and journalist who is the current CEO of media group Axel Springer SE and President of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV).


Mathias Döpfner grew up in Offenbach am Main. His mother was a housewife and his father Dieter C. Döpfner was a university professor of Architecture and Director of the Offenbach College of Applied Arts from 1966 to 1970.[1]

Mathias Döpfner and his wife Ulrike, née Weiß – the daughter of Ulrich Weiß, a former management board member of Deutsche Bank AG – live at Heiligen See in Potsdam and have three sons.

Education and professional positions[edit]

Mathias Döpfner studied musicology, German literature and theater science in Frankfurt and Boston. He began his career in 1982 as the music critic of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung supplement. After working as the FAZ correspondent in Brussels, Döpfner moved to Gruner + Jahr in 1992 – initially employed by board member Axel Ganz in Paris, later as assistant to the CEO Gerd Schulte-Hillen.

In April 1994, Döpfner became editor-in-chief of the Berlin weekly newspaper Wochenpost. In 1996 he took over the post of editor-in-chief of the Hamburg tabloid Hamburger Morgenpost.

In March 1998 he became editor-in-chief of Axel Springer SE's national daily newspaper Die Welt. Under his leadership, the content and visual appearance of the paper was fundamentally revised. On February 26, 2008, Axel Springer announced that the Welt Group had generated a profit for the first time.[2]

Döpfner became a member of the management board of Axel Springer SE and head of the newspaper division in 2000. He became CEO in 2002. A defining characteristic of his leadership continues to be a rigorous focus on digital transformation. Since the start of his tenure as CEO, revenues from digital activities increased from €117m to €2.5bn. EBITDA from digital went up from €-12 to €582m, accounting for 80 percent of the company’s EBITDA. Worldwide digital audience expanded to more than 200 million users.

Journalistic and publishing activities[edit]

Mathias Döpfner regularly speaks out on media and socio-political, economic and cultural issues. Particular attention was given to his debate with Nobel laureate Günter Grass, documented by the SPIEGEL (19.6.2006). Döpfner surprised with the confession: "I am a non-Jewish Zionist". Alongside the topics of threats from Islamic fundamentalism and the image of the United States in Germany, the discussion also focused on the achievements and the failings of the 1968 movement. Döpfner published his opinion on the threat from Islamism in his WELT essay "The West and the mocking laughter of Islamism".

On 12.7.2009, ARD TV broadcast Döpfner's film "My friend George Weidenfeld". Döpfner sees the film portrait, in which he accompanies Lord Weidenfeld on his travels and at meetings and interviews prominent companions such as Daniel Barenboim, Helmut Kohl, Angela Merkel or Shimon Peres, as "a very subjective approach to a great European".

He has repeatedly commented on the subjects of freedom and digitization, particularly in the fall of 2010 as a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge. Under the title "Freedom and the Digital Revolution" Döpfner held three lectures, which addressed Germans' difficult relationship to freedom, the global erosion of freedom and its causes, and digitization as the fourth major cultural revolution and its impact on the freedom of press, privacy, and journalism[3] as well as in his book "Die Freiheitsfalle - The freedom trap" published by Propyläen Verlag in 2011, in which he focuses on the West’s growing tiredness of defending freedom. Taking three watershed events as examples – the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nine Eleven and the financial crisis – Döpfner analyzes the triumphs, threats, and excesses of liberal societies and argues that freedom needs to be fought for, defended and answered for daily, and that democratic societies have not been sufficiently resolute in this regard. They risked falling into the freedom trap and either losing freedom through inaction or betraying it by defending with the wrong means. Alongside the power of freedom in politics and business, Döpfner reflects upon the spirit of freedom in music, literature and painting on the basis of three central works by Richard Wagner, Thomas Mann and Gustave Courbet. The book closes with an analysis of the digital world, in which Döpfner emphasizes the ambivalence of the Internet as a platform critical of authority at the same time as being a monitoring tool controlled by authority.

Döpfner's contributions to media policy include keynotes, for example at the NOAH Conference Berlin 2015[4] or at the SPIEGEL Publishers Forum,[5] the focus of which were the establishment of paid online content and the differentiation between private and public media in digital channels.

For the occasion of the centenary of Axel Springer's birth in 2012, Döpfner gave his personal view of the founder in his New Year's speech. The "Ceremony" in May 2012 was a surprise in itself, as Döpfner converted the entire event into a tongue-in-cheek and entertaining revue without a single speech. He made his own debut as an actor, reciting a fictitious letter to the publisher wearing a hoodie jacket and jeans. The F.A.Z described the revue as an event, in which "pathos, flippancy, understatement and exaggeration, self-righteousness and self-irony were mixed together in a wondrous, sometimes uplifting way, a milestone in the history of the Springer Group."

In an open letter to the Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, he criticized the search engine company,[6] thus triggering a public debate.

On April 10, 2016, Döpfner showed solidarity with the German satirist Jan Böhmermann in an open letter.[7] In his show "Neo Magazine Royale", Böhmermann had previously illustrated the difference between satire and insulting criticism based with a poem about the Turkish President Erdoğan, which lead to resentment in the Turkish government as well as public prosecution in Germany (→ Böhmermann affair). Erdogan subsequently applied for an injunction against Döpfner in May 2016 at a German Court. The request was rejected in the first and second instance.[8]

In November 2017 Döpfner publicly condemned Kuwait Airlines for barring an Israeli passenger from a flight.[9]


Döpfner is a member of the Board of Directors of Netflix and Warner Music Group, and holds honorary offices at, among others, the American Academy, the American Jewish Committee, the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University and the European Publishers Council. He also serves as President of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers. In 2010, he was visiting professor in media at the University of Cambridge and became a member of St John’s College. He is also a member of the international advisory council of RCS Media Group.

Previous mandates include board positions at Time Warner (2006 to 2018), Vodafone PLC (2015 to 2018) and BHF Kleinwort Benson Group, formerly RHJ International (2008 to 2015).

Private engagement[edit]

In 2007, Döpfner bought Villa Schöningen which is situated right beside Glienicke Bridge with Leonhard Fischer. On the eve of the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, a German-German Museum was opened there on 8 November 2009 by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The privately funded project documents the events at the Bridge of Spies during the Cold War on the ground floor of the permanent exhibition. Temporary exhibitions of contemporary art are shown on the first floor. Among the artists were Andreas Slominski (Summer 2012), Georg Baselitz ("The Berlin Years", Spring 2012), Andy Warhol ("Early Works", Spring 2011), Anselm Kiefer ("Europe", Autumn 2010), Martin Kippenberger (Summer 2010) and Olaf Metzel (2014).

Döpfner said he wanted to use his philanthropic project to create a "peaceful place of freedom".[10]


  • 2016 Arno Lustiger Prize[11]
  • 2015 McCloy Award of the American Council on Germany
  • 2014 ADL International Leadership Award, Anti-Defamation League, NY
  • 2014 Shepard Stone-Award, Aspen Berlin
  • 2014 Europe Award of Merit des U.O.B.B.
  • 2013 European Manager of the Year, European Business Press Association (EBP)
  • 2012 Kress Head of the Year
  • 2012 Strategist of the Year, Financial Times Germany
  • 2011 German Media Award: Media Person of the Year
  • 2010 Humanitas Visiting Professor in Media 2010 at University of Cambridge; Member of St. John’s College, Cambridge[12]
  • 2008 Leadership Award, Global American Institute for Contemporary German Studies New York[13]
  • 2007 Leo Baeck Medal of Leo Baeck Institute New York
  • 2007 Honorary Order of the City of Berlin
  • 2000 Goldene Feder (Golden Pen) in the print section as editor-in-chief of Die Welt
  • 2000 Appointed Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum
  • 1991 Axel-Springer-Preis[14]


  • Mathias O. C. Döpfner, Thomas Garms: Neue Deutsche Welle. Kunst oder Mode? Frankfurt am Main; Berlin; Wien: Ullstein, 1984, ISBN 3-548-36505-1 (Ullstein-Buch, 36505; Populäre Kultur)
  • Mathias O. C. Döpfner, Thomas Garms: Erotik in der Musik. Frankfurt/Main; Berlin: Ullstein, 1986, ISBN 3-548-36517-5 (Ullstein-Buch, 36517; Populäre Kultur)
  • Mathias O. C. Döpfner: Musikkritik in Deutschland nach 1945. Inhaltliche und formale Tendenzen; eine kritische Analyse. At the same time: Dissertation, Universität Frankfurt (Main), 1990. Frankfurt am Main; Bern; New York; Paris: Lang, 1991, ISBN 3-631-43158-9 (Europäische Hochschulschriften, Reihe 36, Musikwissenschaft vol. 59)
  • Brüssel. Das Insider-Lexikon. München: Beck, 1993, ISBN 3-406-37397-6 (Beck'sche Reihe; 1007)
  • Axel Springer. Neue Blicke auf den Verleger; eine Edition aktueller Autorenbeiträge und eigener Texte. Editor: Mathias Döpfner. Hamburg: Springer, 2005, ISBN 3-9809879-9-X
  • Reform statt Subvention – Warum wir verlässliche gesetzliche Maßstäbe für Fusionsvorhaben und Schutz kreativer Leistungen brauchen, in: Krautscheid/Schwartmann (editors), Fesseln für die Vielfalt? Das Medienkonzentrationsrecht auf dem Prüfstand, C.F Müller Verlag, Heidelberg 2010
  • Die Verlage sind im digitalen Zeitalter stärker, als sie selbst denken. In: Hubert Burda, Mathias Döpfner, Bodo Hombach, Jürgen Rüttgers (editors): 2020 - Gedanken zur Zukunft des Internets. Klartext, Essen, 2010, S. 177-182. ISBN 978-3-8375-0376-0.
  • How German is it? print of the speech at Thomas Demand's exhibition „Nationalgalerie“, Suhrkamp 2010
  • Die Freiheitsfalle - Ein Bericht. Berlin: Propyläen, 2011, 256 pages, ISBN 978-3-5490-7372-8
  • Anselm Kiefer/Mathias Döpfner, Kunst und Leben, Mythen und Tod. Ein Streitgespräch, Quadriga Verlag, 2012
  • Leser- und Kundenorientierung in einer digitalisierten Medienwelt - Eine Zwischenbilanz, in: Stadler/Brenner/Hermann (editors), Erfolg im digitalen Zeitalter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Buch Verlag, 2012
  • Essay „Laughter is anti-authoritarian, laughter is freedom“, 12 January 2015
  • Die Welt gehört denen, die neu denken. In: Kardinaltugenden effektiver Führung. Drucker, Peter F. (editor), München: Redline Verlag, 2014. ISBN 978-3-86881-396-8
  • „Berlin ist das Herz Europas, ich kenne kein anderes.“: Axel Springer und seine Stadt. Berlin: Edition Braus. ISBN 978-3862281350.
  • Abschied vom Pessimismus. In: Die Idee des Mediums - Reden zur Zukunft des Journalismus / Bernhard Pörksen ; Andreas Narr (editor), von Halem 2015. ISBN 978-3-86962-146-3


  1. ^ "HfG Offenbach". Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  2. ^ Welt-Gruppe schreibt erstmals schwarze Zahlen, Die Welt, 26 February 2008
  3. ^ "Freedom and the Digital Revolution: the freedom trap – CRASSH". Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  4. ^ NoahAdvisors (21 June 2015). "Dr. Mathias Döpfner, Axel Springer - NOAH15 Berlin". Retrieved 30 June 2016 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ "Mathias Döpfner: "Viele Journalisten klingen heute wie Anzeigenverkäufer"". Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  6. ^ Döpfner, Mathias (17 April 2014). "An open letter to Eric Schmidt: Why we fear Google". Retrieved 30 June 2016 – via FAZ.NET.
  7. ^ Solidarität mit Jan Böhmermann!, Die Welt, in German
  8. ^ "Huffington Post". Retrieved 6 July 2016 – via
  9. ^ A German court ruled in favor of an airline that refused to fly an Israeli passenger — and there isn't enough outrage, Business Insider
  10. ^ "Villa Schöningen". Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  11. ^ "Jewish Journal". Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  12. ^ " : The Transformation of the Media Business". Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  13. ^ "AICGS Providing Knowledge, Insights, and Networks for the Future". Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  14. ^ "Axel-Springer-Preis - Axel Springer Akademie". Retrieved 30 June 2016.

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