Mathias Döpfner

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Mathias Döpfner

Mathias Döpfner (born January 15, 1963), is Chief Executive Officer of German media group Axel Springer SE.


Mathias Döpfner grew up in Offenbach am Main. His mother was a housewife and his father Dieter C. Döpfner was a university professor of Architecture and Director of the Offenbach College of Applied Arts from 1966 to 1970.[1]

Mathias Döpfner and his wife Ulrike, née Weiß – the daughter of Ulrich Weiß, a former management board member of Deutsche Bank AG – live at Heiligen See in Potsdam and have three sons.

Education and first professional positions

Mathias Döpfner studied musicology, German literature and theater science in Frankfurt and Boston. He began his career in 1982 as the music critic of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung supplement. After working as the FAZ correspondent in Brussels and as manager of a subsidiary of the Winderstein concert agency, Döpfner moved to Gruner + Jahr in 1992 – initially employed by board member Axel Ganz in Paris, later as assistant to the CEO Gerd Schulte-Hillen.

In April 1994, Döpfner became editor-in-chief of the Berlin weekly newspaper Wochenpost. In 1996 he took over the post of editor-in-chief of the Hamburg tabloid Hamburger Morgenpost.

Axel Springer SE

In March 1998 he became editor-in-chief of Axel Springer SE's national daily newspaper Die Welt. Under his leadership, the content and visual appearance of the paper was fundamentally revised. On February 26, 2008, Axel Springer announced that the Welt Group had generated a profit for the first time.[2]

Döpfner has been a member of the management board of Axel Springer SE since July 2000. From October 2000 he has additionally been head of the newspapers division; and CEO from January 1, 2002.

Mathias Döpfner took over the leadership of Axel Springer SE during an economically difficult time. After the company made 98 million Euros less profit in the boom year of 2000 than the previous year, it had to cope with a loss of 198 million Euros for the first time in its history in the 2001 financial year.

Döpfner surprised his critics with a far-reaching and successful synergy program. At the same time Springer sold loss-making subsidiaries and focused on its core business. The merger of the editorial offices of Die Welt and Berliner Morgenpost promoted by Döpfner was controversial. In the meantime this cooperation model has been copied throughout Germany by publishing houses such as WAZ, Gruner + Jahr and Madsack.

He led the publisher back into the profit zone from 2002 with these measures and has continually increased the company's profitability in subsequent years.

In 2002 Döpfner demanded the redemption of a put option of Springer shares in the Leo Kirch company ProSieben/Sat1. The Munich film distributor was not able to muster the 770 million Euros due however – the beginning of the end of the KirchMedia media empire which declared itself bankrupt in April 2002. At that time, the Springer partner Leo Kirch held 40 percent of the Springer publishing house.

In August 2004, pressure from Döpfner ensured that the publisher's titles were changed back to the traditional orthography. He was then chosen by readers of the German language newspaper Deutsche Sprachwelt as the "Language Defender of 2004". Axel Springer SE has in the meantime made a U-turn with regard to the new German spelling rules.

The takeover of the ProSiebenSat.1 media company – ultimately failing due to a prohibition by the Federal Cartel Authority – was arranged under Döpfner's aegis in August 2005.

Döpfner is considered to be a close confidant of the majority shareholder of the Springer group and widow of the group's founder, Axel Springer, Friede Springer, the godmother of his second son.[3] In July 2006 he bought a 2 per cent stake in Springer SE from her for 52.360.000 Euros. Döpfner received the 680,000 shares at a preferential price of 77 Euros each, almost 27 percent cheaper than the value of the shares on the stock exchange at that time (104.50 Euros),[4] although he had to pay tax on the difference.

In June 2007, Axel Springer SE acquired a majority stake in the PIN Group AG postal service company, in which the company had been involved since 2004, along with the other founding partners Holtzbrinck, WAZ and Rosalia. Through the introduction of a statutory minimum wage – which was subsequently declared unlawful by the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg on December 18, 2008 – the decisive competitive advantage of the private postal service was brought to an end. Participation in the PIN Group AG became a bad investment. In December 2007, Axel Springer SE wrote off its participation and withdrew from the postal business.

Döpfner learnt a lesson for the company: "Future growth lies in digitization and in foreign business, especially in the English-speaking market." 2015, the Company announced the acquisition of Business Insider. In an interview with CNBC Mathias Döpfner described the United States as the largest and most attractive media market in the world. "We see tremendous growth opportunities, the acquisition of Business was the first major step".[5] By purchasing Business Insider, the global digital reach of Axel Springer is growing by two thirds to around 200 million readers a month. The company is now Europe's largest digital publishing house and rises in the group of the six farthest-reaching digital publishers in the world.[6] The company had previously gradually built up a portfolio of US investments (including,, NowThis Media, Pocket, Airbnb, Pixlee) and established an office in Silicon Valley in 2014. Other activities in the field of international digital media are the News App upday in cooperation with Samsung, the investment in the in the news StartUp Blendle as well as the search engine Qwant.

Döpfners digitization strategy is based on the three core competencies of the publishing house: content, marketing, classified advertising. Through the establishment and acquisition of content portals (, auFeminin), online marketers (Zanox, Digital Window, KaufDA) and classifieds portals (StepStone, Immonet, SeLoger) Döpfner is pushing forward a systematic transformation of the former publishing house into a multimedia company. More than 50 percent of revenues and more than 70 percent of EBITDA were made with digital activities in 2014.[7] The paid models of BILD and WELT win continuously more readers in the net.[8]

More than 40 percent of revenues in the 2014 fiscal year came from abroad. Axel Springer's business activities were in particular further internationalized in 2010 through the founding of the Ringier Axel Springer Media AG, a Swiss based joint venture with Ringier AG, which publishes the market-leading tabloid newspapers in Poland, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia.

On the basis of this strategy, Axel Springer generated revenues of 3 billion euros and EBITDA of 507 million euros in the 2014 financial year.[7]

One of Döpfner's main theses is that the publishers' business model, to gather information that has been prepared and selected by professionals under a strong brand; and to offer advertisers creative marketing solutions regardless of whether the distribution channel is print, online or mobile, remains attractive. As one of the first European media CEOs, he has called for a paradigm shift with regard to paid content in digital distribution channels and pushed this forward with numerous offerings – especially for smartphones and tablets. With the "iKiosk", Axel Springer additionally provides an app and a website, respectively, for digital editions which also sells titles from other publishing houses.

With an annual salary of 11 million Euros in 2009, Döpfner was Germany's highest paid manager according to estimates by manager magazin. Axel Springer SE has described this estimate as wrong. The overall compensation published in the annual report includes payments for retired members of the board and gives no indication of the distribution among the four board members.

2014, Axel Springer SE sold the regional papers, advertising papers in Berlin and Hamburg as well as the five TV program guides and women’s magazines for 920 million euros to the Funke Media Group.[9] Döpfner wrote in a staff-mail that "Axel Springer will consistently continue on the path to leading digital media company".[10] He wants it to focus on the BILD Group and the WELT Group. On the day of the announcement of the share price of the Axel Springer SE rose 25 percent.[11]

Journalistic and publishing activities

Mathias Döpfner regularly speaks out on media and socio-political, economic and cultural issues. Particular attention was given to his debate with Nobel laureate Günter Grass, documented by the SPIEGEL (19.6.2006). Döpfner surprised with the confession: "I am a non-Jewish Zionist". Alongside the topics of threats from Islamic fundamentalism and the image of the United States in Germany, the discussion also focused on the achievements and the failings of the 1968 movement. He was "ready to lead a self-critical review on behalf of the Axel Springer publishing house with regard to 1968". However, there also has to be an equally self-critical debate "on the substantive aberrations of the 1968 movement". In January 2010 Axel Springer SE put the Medienarchiv68 online, containing nearly 6000 articles, all comments, letters, cartoons, news reports, commentaries and interviews from the Springer titles between 1966 and 1968 regarding this topic.[12] Döpfner published his opinion on the threat from Islamism in his WELT essay "The West and the mocking laughter of Islamism".

On 12.7.2009, ARD TV broadcast Döpfner's film "My friend George Weidenfeld". Döpfner sees the film portrait, in which he accompanies Lord Weidenfeld on his travels and at meetings and interviews prominent companions such as Daniel Barenboim, Helmut Kohl, Angela Merkel or Shimon Peres, as "a very subjective approach to a great European".

He has repeatedly commented on the subjects of freedom and digitization, particularly in the fall of 2010 as a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge. Under the title "Freedom and the Digital Revolution" Döpfner held three lectures in which he addressed the Germans' difficult relationship to freedom, the global erosion of freedom and its causes, and digitization as the fourth major cultural revolution and its impact on press freedom, privacy, and journalism[13] as well as in his book "Die Freiheitsfalle - The freedom trap" published by Propyläen Verlag in 2011, in which he focuses on the forgetting of freedom by the West. Taking three watershed events as examples – the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nine Eleven and the financial crisis – Döpfner analyzes the triumphs, threats, and excesses of liberal societies and argues that freedom needs to be fought for, defended and answered for daily, but that democratic societies have not been sufficiently resolute in this. They risked falling into the freedom trap and either losing freedom through inaction or betraying it through the selection of illiberal methods of defense. Alongside the power of freedom in politics and business, Döpfner reflects upon the spirit of freedom in music, literature and painting on the basis of three central works by Richard Wagner, Thomas Mann and Gustave Courbet. The book closes with an analysis of the digital world, in which Döpfner emphasizes the ambivalence of the Internet as a platform critical of authority at the same time as being a monitoring tool controlled by authority.

Döpfner's contributions to media policy include keynotes, for example at the NOAH Conference Berlin 2015[14] or at the SPIEGEL Publishers Forum,[15] the focus of which were the establishment of paid online content and the differentiation between private and public media in digital channels.

For the occasion of the centenary of Axel Springer's birth in 2012, Döpfner gave his personal view of the founder in his New Year's speech. The "Ceremony" in May 2012 was a surprise in itself, as Döpfner converted the entire event into a tongue-in-cheek and entertaining revue without a single speech. He made his own debut as an actor, reciting a fictitious letter to the publisher wearing a hoodie jacket and jeans. The F.A.Z described the revue as an event, in which "pathos, flippancy, understatement and exaggeration, self-righteousness and self-irony were mixed together in a wondrous, sometimes uplifting way, a milestone in the history of the Springer Group."

In an open letter to the Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, he criticized the search engine company,[16] thus triggering a public debate.


Döpfner has been the only European member of the Supervisory Board of the world's largest media company Time Warner since July 2006, and Non-executive Director of Vodafone Group Public Limited Company since April 2015. Since October 2015, Döpfner is Chairman of the Board of Directors at Business Insider. He is member of the International Advisory Board at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.[17]

Private engagement

In 2007, Döpfner bought Villa Schöningen which is situated right beside Glienicke Bridge with Leonhard Fischer, CEO of RHJI. On the eve of the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, a German-German Museum was opened there on 8 November 2009 by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The privately funded project documents the events at the Bridge of Spies during the Cold War on the ground floor of the permanent exhibition. Temporary exhibitions of contemporary art are shown on the first floor. Among the artists were Andreas Slominski (Summer 2012), Georg Baselitz ("The Berlin Years", Spring 2012), Andy Warhol ("Early Works", Spring 2011), Anselm Kiefer ("Europe", Autumn 2010), and Martin Kippenberger (Summer 2010).

Döpfner said he wanted to use his philanthropic project to create a "peaceful place of freedom".[18]


  • 2015 McCloy Award of the American Council on Germany
  • 2014 ADL International Leadership Award, Anti-Defamation League, NY
  • 2014 Shepard Stone-Award, Aspen Berlin
  • 2014 Europe Award of Merit des U.O.B.B.
  • 2013 European Manager of the Year
  • 2012 Kress Head of the Year
  • 2012 Strategist of the Year, Financial Times Germany
  • 2011 German Media Award: Media Person of the Year
  • 2010 Humanitas Visiting Professor in Media 2010 at University of Cambridge; Member of St. John’s College, Cambridge[19]
  • 2008 Leadership Award, Global American Institute for Contemporary German Studies New York[20]
  • 2007 Leo Baeck Medal of Leo Baeck Institute New York
  • 2007 Honorary Order of the City of Berlin
  • 2000 Goldene Feder (Golden Pen) in the print section as editor-in-chief of Die Welt
  • 2000 Appointed Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum
  • 1991 Axel-Springer-Preis[21]


  • Mathias O. C. Döpfner, Thomas Garms: Neue Deutsche Welle. Kunst oder Mode? Frankfurt am Main; Berlin; Wien: Ullstein, 1984, ISBN 3-548-36505-1 (Ullstein-Buch, 36505; Populäre Kultur)
  • Mathias O. C. Döpfner, Thomas Garms: Erotik in der Musik. Frankfurt/Main; Berlin: Ullstein, 1986, ISBN 3-548-36517-5 (Ullstein-Buch, 36517; Populäre Kultur)
  • Mathias O. C. Döpfner: Musikkritik in Deutschland nach 1945. Inhaltliche und formale Tendenzen; eine kritische Analyse. At the same time: Dissertation, Universität Frankfurt (Main), 1990. Frankfurt am Main; Bern; New York; Paris: Lang, 1991, ISBN 3-631-43158-9 (Europäische Hochschulschriften, Reihe 36, Musikwissenschaft vol. 59)
  • Brüssel. Das Insider-Lexikon. München: Beck, 1993, ISBN 3-406-37397-6 (Beck'sche Reihe; 1007)
  • Axel Springer. Neue Blicke auf den Verleger; eine Edition aktueller Autorenbeiträge und eigener Texte. Editor: Mathias Döpfner. Hamburg: Springer, 2005, ISBN 3-9809879-9-X
  • Reform statt Subvention – Warum wir verlässliche gesetzliche Maßstäbe für Fusionsvorhaben und Schutz kreativer Leistungen brauchen, in: Krautscheid/Schwartmann (editors), Fesseln für die Vielfalt? Das Medienkonzentrationsrecht auf dem Prüfstand, C.F Müller Verlag, Heidelberg 2010
  • Die Verlage sind im digitalen Zeitalter stärker, als sie selbst denken. In: Hubert Burda, Mathias Döpfner, Bodo Hombach, Jürgen Rüttgers (editors): 2020 - Gedanken zur Zukunft des Internets. Klartext, Essen, 2010, S. 177-182. ISBN 978-3-8375-0376-0.
  • How German is it? print of the speech at Thomas Demand's exhibition „Nationalgalerie“, Suhrkamp 2010
  • Die Freiheitsfalle - Ein Bericht. Berlin: Propyläen, 2011, 256 pages, ISBN 978-3-5490-7372-8
  • Anselm Kiefer/Mathias Döpfner, Kunst und Leben, Mythen und Tod. Ein Streitgespräch, Quadriga Verlag, 2012
  • Leser- und Kundenorientierung in einer digitalisierten Medienwelt - Eine Zwischenbilanz, in: Stadler/Brenner/Hermann (editors), Erfolg im digitalen Zeitalter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Buch Verlag, 2012
  • Essay „Laughter is anti-authoritarian, laughter is freedom“, 12 January 2015
  • Die Welt gehört denen, die neu denken. In: Kardinaltugenden effektiver Führung. Drucker, Peter F. (editor), München: Redline Verlag, 2014. ISBN 978-3-86881-396-8
  • „Berlin ist das Herz Europas, ich kenne kein anderes.“: Axel Springer und seine Stadt. Berlin: Edition Braus. ISBN 978-3862281350.
  • Abschied vom Pessimismus. In: Die Idee des Mediums - Reden zur Zukunft des Journalismus / Bernhard Pörksen ; Andreas Narr (editor), von Halem 2015. ISBN 978-3-86962-146-3


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