Case | HBS Case Collection | March 2003 (Revised November 2005)

Bertelsmann AG

by Bharat N. Anand, Michael G. Rukstad and Christoph Kostring


On July 28, 2002, Bertelsmann announced the firing of its CEO, Thomas Middelhoff, in a move that surprised industry observers, analysts, and many employees. Bertelsmann, a privately held company headquartered in Germany, was one of the largest global media conglomerates, with businesses spanning book publishing, printing, music, and television. Between 1998 and 2002, Middelhoff had initiated a series of strategic initiatives aimed at fostering greater integration among its diverse business units and strengthening their competitive positions, articulated a series of guidelines that would reevaluate Bertelsmann's portfolio mix, and looked to prepare Bertelsmann for a transition to a planned initial public offering in 2005. This case describes these initiatives in detail and the decision of the supervisory board to effect a change in leadership. The new CEO, Gunter Thielen, had to decide whether to effect a fundamental shift in the company's corporate strategy or a more modest reinterpretation of the course charted by Middelhoff. Includes color exhibits.

Keywords: Business Conglomerates; Corporate Strategy; Entertainment; Media; Change Management; Integration; Resignation and Termination; Private Ownership; Initial Public Offering; Business Units; Media and Broadcasting Industry; Publishing Industry; Music Industry; Germany;


Anand, Bharat N., Michael G. Rukstad, and Christoph Kostring. "Bertelsmann AG." Harvard Business School Case 703-405, March 2003. (Revised November 2005.)