“GUILTY” IS THE title of a book presented on August 20th by Thomas Middelhoff, the former boss of Bertelsmann, a media conglomerate, once feted from Berlin to Hollywood. It is not an admission of legal guilt, for Mr Middelhoff still feels his three-year prison sentence for tax evasion and breach of trust was overly harsh. But he committed the seven deadly sins in a biblical sense, he says, which is why he feels he deserved time behind bars and the loss of his fortune, reputation, health and marriage. He wants the account of his failures to serve as a cautionary tale for businesspeople in Germany and beyond.
Mr Middelhoff’s stellar rise was unusual in staid Teutonic business culture. He climbed to the top of Bertelsmann through a combination of hard work, unwavering belief in his instincts, showmanship and an Anglo-Saxon appetite for risk. Perhaps his biggest coup was a partnership with Steve Case, who at the time was the virtually unknown boss of a struggling startup called America Online. Then known as “Big T”, Mr Middelhoff made a fortune for Bertelsmann when he sold its stake in AOL for close to €7bn ($6.7bn) in 2000, just before the dotcom bubble burst.
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