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Reinhard Mohn – Citizen

"We need the courage to define new goals!"

Reinhard Mohn mit seinem Rad auf einer Landstrasse
Icon Vergrößerung
Reinhard Mohn (2001)
Photographer: Wolfgang Wesener

Reinhard Mohn’s credo was, “We have the freedom to act. We should take advantage of it.” Throughout his life, this belief guided his actions as a business and social leader. He always viewed taking responsibility as an opportunity to make a difference.

Reinhard Mohn was born on June 29, 1921, in Gütersloh, where he completed his schooling in 1939 and was subsequently drafted into the military. Serving as a lieutenant in the Africa Corps, he was taken prisoner of war by the Americans in 1943, only returning to Germany in 1946. His desire to become an engineer was at odds with his father’s plans for him to join the family printing and publishing business. Mohn acceded to his father’s wish and became the company’s executive director, a move that marked the beginning of one of the most remarkable and productive careers in postwar Germany.  

Over the course of 40 years he transformed Bertelsmann, a midsized company, into one of the globe’s leading media conglomerates. Thanks to his self-discipline and his desire to effect change, his achievements in the area of business management, leadership and civic engagement proved exemplary. He was guided by his family’s longstanding values and its 175-year tradition of addressing social issues. He himself said, “Ethical considerations are always just as important as economic goals. It seems to me that this is what explains the remarkable stability exhibited by Bertelsmann.”

Even in his early years as executive director, Mohn put a lot of energy into creating an optimal structure for his company. He wanted his organization to reflect the principles of justice, fairness and partnership. His inspiration was not the ideal of a social utopia, but the conviction that employees who are given an opportunity to develop within the workplace will be happier and therefore more motivated and productive. “What influences a company’s growth and continuity most is when as many people as possible are willing to take responsibility and participate in decision-making processes,” he said.  

His beliefs reflected three concerns: individual freedom, material justice and social security.

In 1981, in keeping with the leadership principles he himself had developed, Mohn relinquished his position as chief executive officer of Bertelsmann AG and became chairman of the company’s Supervisory Board, a position he left on June 29, 1991, his 70th birthday, to head up the Bertelsmann Stiftung. On October 1, 2001, he stepped down as chairman of the foundation’s Executive Board and was succeeded by Dr. Gunter Thielen. He remained a member of the board until December 31, 2004. 

In 1981 Mohn was recognized by the city of Gütersloh for his exemplary contributions to public life. In 1994 he received the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and, in 1996, was made an honorary member of the Club of Rome. In 1998 he received the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as the Prince of Asturias Award, bestowed by the Spanish royal family. The same year he was named Entrepreneur of the Century. In 1999 he received North Rhine-Westphalia’s State Prize, along with the Hanns Martin Schleyer Prize and Spain’s Grand Cross. In 2000 he was honored with the Bernhard Harms Medal, awarded by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, and the Jakob Fugger Medal, presented by the Association of Newspaper Publishers in Bavaria. In 2001 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Münster and, in 2002, the Future Prize awarded by the Christian Democratic Party’s Social Committee. Together with his wife Liz he received the Teddy Kollek Award in 2003. The Spanish city of Alcúdia in made him an honorary citizen in 2005. Finally, in 2007, he received the German Founder’s Prize in the category “Life Achievement.” 

When he was honored by the city of Gütersloh in 1981, the city’s then municipal director, Dr. Gerd Wixforth, noted that Mohn’s efforts on behalf of his hometown did not consist solely of financial support, but another key ingredient as well -- personal engagement. The city’s history is full of examples of Reinhard Mohn’s involvement , Wixforth said. 

Reinhard Mohn died on October 3, 2009, at the age of 88.


"I did what came naturally to me."
(Reinhard Mohn)

Liz Mohn and Christoph Mohn present a bust of Reinhard Mohn to the Gütersloh Municipal Museum

Gütersloh Municipal Museum displays bust of Reinhard Mohn

The Municipal Museum of Gütersloh wants to help keep the memory of Reinhard Mohn alive. A bust of the late business leader has therefore been added to the museum’s exhibition "Gütersloh: A City of Donors and Philanthropists." Liz and Christoph Mohn donated the bronze bust as a gift to the citizens of Gütersloh.


Gütersloh Municipal Museum
Pictures of Reinhard Mohn
Headshot of Reinhard Mohn (detail)

Bücher von Reinhard Mohn
Collage mit Publikationen von Reinhard Mohn.

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