It was quite a surprise when Bertelsmann sent Markus Dohle to New York in 2008. A down-to-earth industrial engineer from Sauerland, then only 39 years old, as head of Random House, one of the world’s best-known book publishers? On his first day at work, he met the then bestselling author Dan Brown. Under his leadership, the turnover of the Bertelsmann book division then more than doubled and the result quintupled.
At least as surprisingly, Dohle, now 54 years old, is saying goodbye. Dohle announced on Friday afternoon that he was resigning “at his own request” from his post at the end of the year – he was thus assuming responsibility for the billion-euro takeover of US publisher Simon & Schuster that just failed. “Markus Dohle’s decision is humanly understandable and understandable,” said Bertelsmann boss Thomas Rabe of the SZ. Dohle is not to blame for the fact that the takeover of Simon & Schuster did not work out. “We didn’t make any mistakes, that was a political decision in the USA,” emphasized Rabe.
Two weeks ago, Bertelsmann finally failed with the planned takeover of Simon & Schuster. Penguin Random House wanted to buy the traditional American publisher, founded in 1924, for more than two billion euros and thus strengthen its position, particularly in the US market. But the Germans failed because of resistance from the American Department of Justice. A US district court in Washington ruled that the merger would significantly restrict competition in the market for the publishing rights to the best-selling books in the US. Among others, successful author Stephen King appeared as a witness. Penguin Random House’s market share in the USA is estimated at around 24 percent, that of Simon & Schuster at nine percent. Simon & Schuster would have been an important and, above all, prestigious addition to Bertelsmann; well-known authors such as Hillary Clinton, John Irving and Bob Woodward publish their books there.
Nihar Malaviya will now temporarily head the international publishing group based in New York, which has belonged to Bertelsmann since 1998. He came to the USA from India with his parents, has been with the group for more than 20 years and has so far been responsible for all operational publishing processes in the USA. Rabe wants to decide in the coming year whether he will stay in the long term. “He has the potential to fill this role. He has everything to lead a company of this size,” he said. A fundamental change in strategy for Penguin Random House is “not necessary”. However, Rabe announced: “From an antitrust point of view, we will not be making any major acquisitions in the near future, especially not in the USA. However, smaller acquisitions are conceivable.”
“We had a pretty cool run”
There’s a lot at stake: The books division is one of the core businesses that has been stable to date and is also the nucleus from which Bertelsmann once emerged. The list of problems at Gütersloher is even longer. In France, too, a flagship project failed due to the stiff resistance of the competition authorities: Rabe wanted to sell the television channel M 6 to its competitor TF 1 so that a “national champion” would emerge. Now he has to continue alone with M 6 for the time being. The merger of the Luxembourg call center operator Majorel, in which Bertelsmann has a stake, with a competitor also failed. In Germany, the merger of RTL with the Hamburg publishing house Gruner + Jahr is causing a lot of unrest, and top managers are leaving the company.
“We’ve had a pretty cool run over the past 15 years,” wrote Dohle as a farewell to the approximately 10,000 employees. Penguin Random House is by far the largest book publisher in the world, with 15,000 new publications a year. Successful authors such as John Grisham, Salman Rushdie, Nick Hornby and Margaret Atwood are published. Dohle sometimes personally looked after well-known authors, including the Obamas. The ex-president published his memoirs (“A Promised Land”) with Penguin Random House, it was one of the world’s best-selling books. It was initially published in 25 languages, with a uniform cover and accompanied by an unprecedented marketing campaign. Michelle Obama is also under contract, and Prince Harry’s autobiography will be published in January.
Dohle was previously one of the powerful in the book industry. He started at Bertelsmann in Gütersloh in 1994 and later took care of book printing. As Random House boss, he then ensured a kind of renaissance in the book business, also with successes such as the erotic novel “50 Shades of Gray”. He also consistently focused on e-books, turned the publishing house into a “book factory” and merged with the British publishing house Penguin. In doing so, he expanded the world’s leading position – all to the liking of the headquarters in Gütersloh. An amazing career – but now he’s gone.