Publisher who transformed the fortunes of Bertelsmann after the Second World War
Reinhard Mohn turned his family's war-ravaged religious publishing company, Bertelsmann AG, into one of the world's largest media conglomerates employing more than 100,000 people in more than 50 countries world-wide and with revenues of approximately 16bn [14.45bn] in 2008.
Mohn put much of his success down to the maxim "You have to persuade people". And that is what he did throughout much of his life. From the beginning he saw himself as a partner to everyone who worked with him at Bertelsmann. He was even a frequent presence in the company cafeteria, eating lunch alongside everyone else. Mohn understood how to motivate people by granting them the freedom to follow their own instincts rather than be dictated to - a philosophy borne out of his dislike for the blind obedience to authority he witnessed during the Nazi regime.
It was Mohn's great grandfather, Carl Bertelsmann, who established the company in north-eastern Germany in 1835. At that time it was the purveyor of hymn books and religious material. Around the turn of the century, Johannes Mohn, Reinhard's grandfather, married into the Bertelsmann family and took over the running of the business.
Reinhard Mohn, the fifth of six children, was born on 29 June 1921 in the quiet town of Gtersloh, North Rhine-Westphalia. At the start of the Second World War in 1939, aged 18, he was drafted into the Wehrmacht and soon became a lieutenant in Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. He was later captured by US forces in Tunisia in 1943.
Following his return from a prisoner-of-war camp in Kansas in 1946 aged 24, he dropped his ambition of becoming an engineer and acquiesced to his father's wishes and began an apprenticeship in book retailing. The following year, Mohn took over the management of his family's printing and publishing company. Unable to get enough funding from banks to rebuild the premises and machinery, which had been devastated by the Allied bombings, Mohn turned to former employees to invest their labour in return for a share in profits. For this he earned the moniker "Red Mohn".
In June 1950 he started the Bertelsmann Lesering book club. The idea was very simple: by joining the book club, customers could buy books at a discount, but they had to agree to buy books on a regular basis. Within four years it had over a million subscribers. The book club became an icon of Germany's Wirtschaftswunder, or post-war economic miracle.
The revenue generated by the book club sales allowed Mohn to expand the company and the range of Bertelsmann's business. As a result, in 1962 the book club Circulo de Lectores, launched in Spain and then seven years later in South America. The French book …