Bertelsmann To Change Chief Exec

A January 19th meeting of Bertelsmann’s supervisory board was expected to announce that Hartmut Ostrowski will replace Gunter Thielen as chief exec.

Thielen, who will be 65 in August, intends to retire, although some reports suggest he may stay on as chairman of the supervisory board.

He stepped in as chief executive after Thomas Middlehof departed in the summer of 2002.

The Mohn family that owns the company is wary of charismatic leaders – particularly after the experience of Middelhof, who wanted to take Bertelsmann public – and wants the group to remain private.

Ostrowski, who runs the company’s Arvato printing services unit, looks to be the Mohns’ first choice to ensure a smooth changeover at the top.

He is credited with helping to improve the performance of Arvato, a complex business that includes printing and pressing CDs and DVDs.

According to the U.K.’s The Times, he is the sort of low-profile performer the Mohn family enjoys having at the top of Europe’s biggest consumer media group.

Ostrowski’s own media appearances in the last 12 months were restricted to an interview with Neue Westfalische, a regional paper that circulates in the company’s hometown of Gütersloh.

He’s bound to carry on with existing Bertelsmann strategy, as it isn’t open to change. The company is tied to getting rid of the debt load incurred when it bought out former minority shareholder Groupe Bruxelles Lambert for euro 4.5 billion (US$5.84 billion).

The immediate future of the company’s recorded music business rests on whether the European Commission’s antitrust regulators will allow its merger with Sony to stand.

The publishing business has been hived off to Vivendi’s Universal for euro 1.63 billion (US$2.07 billion), although that deal is also subject to EC scrutiny.

However, the outcome of the latter will be of little consequence to Bertelsmann as it’s already got the money.