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Bertelsmann : ‘Reinhard Mohn Broke New Ground'

06/11/2021 | 02:54am EDT

News | Gütersloh, 06/11/2021

'Reinhard Mohn Broke New Ground'

'Reinhard Mohn - Ein Jahrhundertunternehmer' (Reinhard Mohn - Entrepreneur, Leader, Visionary) is the title of a new book by historian Joachim Scholtyseck, published this week by C. Bertelsmann. Mohn would have turned 100 on June 29. The author spoke with Thomas Rabe and Amelie Fried about the book on the Blue Sofa at the Gütersloh Theater on Wednesday evening. The event was streamed live online.

We've had to get used to deserted theater halls during this pandemic. But very slowly, at least on stage, life is finally returning. On Thursday evening, this was the case at the Gütersloh Theater. A very special edition of the renowned 'Blue Sofa' literary format took place on the modern theater's large stage as Bertelsmann Chairman & CEO Thomas Rabe, corporate historian Joachim Scholtyseck, and writer Amelie Fried discussed Scholtyseck's new book: 'Reinhard Mohn - Ein Jahrhundertunternehmer,' published a few days ago to mark the centenary of the Bertelsmann' post-war founder's birth on June 29.

Because guests were not yet allowed in due to the pandemic, the theater hall remained empty, but Bertelsmann Corporate Communications, headed by Karin Schlautmann, who is responsible for the Reinhard Mohn Centennial activities and The Blue Sofa, had come up with a lot of ideas to elegantly disguise this: The organizers promptly turned the familiar furniture - the famous blue sofa and two blue armchairs - around so that the three conversation partners sat with their backs to the hall, which was decorated with blue LED tubes for the camera, and instead looked back onto the stage…and at the cameras, as the entire event was streamed live on Bertelsmann's website, as well as on rtl.de, ntv.de, stern.de, and other media portals. So there was an audience after all - and theoretically from all over the world, just as Reinhard Mohn would have liked, internationally minded entrepreneur that he was. These viewers saw a fascinating, one-hour conversation devoted entirely to Reinhard Mohn's entrepreneurial life and work.

The discussion evening began at 7 p.m. with a welcoming address by moderator Amelie Fried and a short video trailer featuring pictures of Reinhard Mohn accompanied by particularly memorable quotes from the entrepreneur. The trailer was produced by our colleagues at Corporate Archives, part of the Corporate Communications departments. A second clip showed excerpts from interviews with Reinhard Mohn from various decades, with one memorable phrase coming right at the start. 'They didn't get it,' was Mohn's retrospective comment on accusations from employers about his supposedly overly employee-friendly attitude and employee participation in the company's success, which earned him the nickname 'Red Mohn' at the time. The fact that 'they didn't get' Mohn's circumspect corporate philosophy, largely a given in today's world but sensational for its time, was repeatedly the focus of the conversation that evening. 'Delegation of responsibility, transparency, co-determination - all these are still formative at Bertelsmann,' said Thomas Rabe, who met Reinhard Mohn in 2004, before his move to Bertelsmann as Chief Financial Officer. 'Today, Bertelsmann has more than 130,000 employees and a very broadly diversified business portfolio - a company like this can only be managed if you delegate responsibility,' said Rabe.

Mohn's delegation of responsibility is in fact one of the outstanding traits that led the academic Joachim Scholtyseck to describe Mohn in his book as an 'entrepreneur of the century.' 'That was still unusual for the time,' said Scholtyseck. Bertelsmann had grown from 80 to 5,000 employees in 15 years, and Mohn knew he couldn't do it alone. 'He needed good employees whom he could inspire for his company - and that could only succeed if he relinquished some responsibility himself,' said the historian. 'This kind of managerial thinking was still unusual in Germany at the time; entrepreneurs in the postwar period were still very patriarchal.' Reinhard Mohn substantially changed this way of thinking, he said. Other factors that make Reinhard Mohn an entrepreneur of the century for Joachim Scholtyseck are his willingness to involve employees, with the key ideas being co-determination, close cooperation with the works council, and recognition of the unions. Here, too, Thomas Rabe sees an unbroken continuity with today's Bertelsmann: 'The balancing of interests in a company is important; there are not just the shareholders to consider, there are also the employees, the employee representatives, and the general public.' Reinhard Mohn developed an early form of the stakeholder approach, as opposed to the shareholder approach, and these elements still very much characterize Bertelsmann, said Rabe.

While Reinhard Mohn was exceptional in many ways, Joachim Scholtyseck sees Mohn's self-image as a 'doer' as typical of his generation of entrepreneurs. 'Mohn liked to experiment; he broke new ground, which made him a good fit for the gold-rush atmosphere of the early Federal Republic,' said the historian. Moderator Amelie Fried complemented this statement with the well-known Mohn quote, 'We had a lot more ideas than money,' which provided another cue for Thomas Rabe: 'Capital was always scarce at Bertelsmann - and that's a good thing,' he emphasized. Because when capital is scarce, he said, you have to be selective, think carefully about what you're doing, and simply do your work more thoroughly. 'That's always been the case at Bertelsmann, and it's still the case today,' he said. 'Today, as then, we have a lot more ideas than capital, and we pick the best of them.'

Another topic that kept recurring throughout the conversation was Mohn's relationship to the United States. 'The U.S. was a model nation for Reinhard Mohn,' said Scholtyseck. Mohn was infected with the 'American Dream' during his time in a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp in Kansas, he said, and would have preferred to stay there. 'America was important to him in terms of management ideas, but also because he saw an extremely interesting, but also difficult market here.' Later, Reinhard Mohn repeatedly traveled to the U.S. to get ideas, e.g. on matters of technology such as computerization and rationalization, but also for management techniques. And yet it was precisely in his management of employees that Mohn went on to set his own stamp, which was adapted to the situation in Germany. Since the 1950s, said Scholtyseck, Mohn had put together 'a whole raft of measures for employee welfare,' such as granting them a stake in the company's financial success. And quite by the way, Mohn was able to raise much-needed capital at the time by issuing bonds to his employees at good interest rates. 'He didn't do all this out of pure altruism, but always had the interests of the company in mind,' emphasized Scholtyseck.

Bertelsmann's first step abroad was not to the U.S., but to Spain. 'The idea behind the Lesering, Bertelsmann's book club, was to bring books to the reader, because at that time there were still entire sections of society in Germany that were not familiar with books,' said Scholtyseck. This idea was then transferred to other countries, starting with Spain. 'Spain was still a dictatorship at the time, but it was also a cultural society, agrarian but with potential,' explained Scholtyseck. Thomas Rabe agreed, and emphasized: 'This was a success story based primarily on the realization that the domestic market was becoming too small in the long run and that a business model that worked in Germany could also be successful abroad.' This was an extremely bold step, and laid the foundations for Bertelsmann's current internationalization, he said.

'Hardworking, disciplined, and frugal' - Amelie Fried quoted former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's assessment of Reinhard Mohn, and then, together with the panel, elaborated on more of Mohn's personal characteristics. 'The Protestant upbringing that formed his character included not bragging about money, not showing off,' emphasized Scholtyseck. His focus was not on family or personal wealth, but first and foremost on the company. 'The company has priority over the family. This belief was his constant companion,' said Scholtyseck. Mohn's down-to-earth attitude, his rootedness in Gütersloh, also continue to shape Bertelsmann to this day, added Thomas Rabe. All commitment to the company aside, Reinhard Mohn also took care to ensure a healthy work-life balance, as evidenced, for example, in his walks in the woods and his vacations in Mallorca.

Amelie Fried then asked about the political involvement of Bertelsmann's post-war founder, quoting from Reinhard Mohn's farewell address as Chairman of the Bertelsmann Supervisory Board, when he said: 'It was a good time of shaping and proving oneself. An entrepreneurial, socially committed person could hardly wish for more.' 'Reinhard Mohn saw himself as a 'homo politicus,'' emphasized Scholtyseck. He said this was particularly true for the period after 1981, i.e., after his departure from the operating business. 'As an entrepreneur, I have a responsibility to do something for society,' said Scholtyseck, describing Mohn's attitude. 'Here he was indeed a political person.' Mohn wanted to provide input and impetus, and succeeded in doing so, e.g., with his ideas on the social constitution and, not least, with the establishment of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. 'Its founding stemmed from the entrepreneur's social responsibility to give back to society,' said Thomas Rabe.

'Reinhard Mohn was so forward-looking that Bertelsmann was fit for the future even in his time - that is Reinhard Mohn's legacy,' concluded Scholtyseck at the end of the conversation. 'How do I ensure that this company will endure as a family business even after my time?' This question always preoccupied Mohn, he said, and Scholtyseck is fascinated to see that it has worked out so well. 'I see a great deal, a very great deal, of Reinhard Mohn in today's Bertelsmann,' said Scholtyseck. A statement that Thomas Rabe was happy to second: 'We see it that way, too, not because we say that's the legacy, but because we still think it's right for the company, and because we can still work extremely successfully in this way.'

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Bertelsmann SE & Co KGaA published this content on 11 June 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 11 June 2021 06:53:07 UTC.

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