The Financial Times has aired an exclusive interview with Thomas Rabe, CEO of Bertelsmann – Europe’s biggest media group, and one of its largest family-owned privately held businesses. Oh, and part owner alongside Pearson of Penguin Random House.
The Bertelsmann CEO admits that his charge may not only be disadvantaged compared to the likes of Google and Amazon, but also starting from a trailing position – which, however, has recently improved. “I honestly think that we have caught up massively in the past 15 to 18 months,” he says. This situation may be partly the result of the group’s response to new technology. Rabe reports that the group has not exactly welcomed digital disruption with open arms. “Until two years ago at Bertelsmann, digitisation was primarily seen as a threat and not an opportunity,” he remarked to the FT. “People were looking for this famous red button to press to stop digitisation.”
It’s refreshing to hear that Rabe has led the company into more up-to-date attitudes regarding technology. The same goes for restructuring and M&A – Rabe led Bertelsmann through the merger of Random House with Penguin, and apparently the company still has more acquisitions targeted in new technology areas.
But the same forward vision may not cover corporate ownership. Rabe apparently is not going to be the one to take Bertelsmann public. Despite some limited share issuance for some units, such as broadcaster RTL, one of Europe’s largest publishing and media conglomerates remains safe from the disciplines of transparency and fiduciary accountability, and the possession of one family. Rupert Murdoch obviously is in good company.