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Australia's most secretive media barons

It is the family behind some of Australia’s oldest and most recognised media brands, including titles many of us see and read every day, but its members are rarely in the news themselves.
Yvonne Bauer

It is the family behind some of Australia’s oldest and most recognised media brands, including titles many of us see and read every day, but its members are rarely in the news themselves.

The Bauer family controls more than 60 magazines across Australia, which collectively sell over 67 million copies a year, including The Australian Women’s Weekly, Woman’s Day, TV Week, Harper’s BAZAAR, Cleo, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Top Gear and Wheels. In the lucrative field of custom publishing, they also produce magazines for Qantas, Foxtel, Westfield, Myer and others.

But until just over two years ago, despite their illustrious heritage in the media sector, few in Australia had even heard of the Bauers. That all changed in late 2012 when Yvonne Bauer, then aged just 35, orchestrated a $500 million deal to buy Australian Consolidated Press, the media group which for decades was controlled by the powerful Packer family, from private equity firm CVC Asia Pacific.

Yvonne, now aged 38, is the fifth generation of her family to run the massive Bauer Verlagsgruppe, or Bauer Media Group, and presides over a global portfolio of more than 600 magazines, 400 digital products and 50 radio and TV stations, including 30 premium titles in New Zealand. According to Forbes magazine, her personal fortune is worth about $2.9 billion, making her one of Germany’s youngest billionaires.

Bauer Media, based in Hamburg, Germany, started life 140 years ago, in 1875, when lithographer Ludolph Bauer opened a print shop for business cards.

Ludolph’s son Heinrich, also a printer, became part-owner in 1903 and entered the publishing business as a pioneer in Germany with the launch of a free advertising paper, the Rothenburgsorter Zeitung. By the 1920s they had established a small portfolio of newspapers which were distributed across Germany. Further growth occurred after World War II, with the family expanding into magazines, and by the 1960s the Bauers dominated the popular youth and women’s segments through titles such as tina and bella.

Yvonne's father, Heinz Heinrich Bauer, began the company's international expansion with the 1981 launch of the first weekly women’s magazine in the United States, Woman's World, at the same time buying and launching magazine titles in other parts of Europe, including the UK, as well as radio and television assets

The Bauers now have operations in 16 countries, with annual revenues of around $2.6bn and more than 11,000 employees on their books. Last month, the family paid an undisclosed sum for Scandinavia’s SBS Discovery Radio, adding a further 20 radio stations to its collection.

Yet, even with their huge media spread, little is really known about the Bauers including Yvonne, who took over the family business after her father transferred his 85% stake to her in 2010, when she was just 30. Yvonne is single, and her older sisters Mirja, Nicola and Saskia each own 5% but are not actively involved in the group’s operations. Heinz Bauer, now in his 70s, remains on as a general partner.

Yvonne studied German philology at the University of Bamberg, in Bavaria, and went on to do an apprenticeship at the publishing house Hoffmann und Campe, before starting her career at Bauer in 2005.

On becoming Australia’s largest magazines publisher, rather than fronting a press conference, Yvonne issued a simple statement. “ACP fits our strategy of developing the Bauer Media Group globally. We believe in print, and ACP’s strong brands in Australia and New Zealand are perfect platforms to expand into digital areas,” she said. About four months later, in an email to The Australian, she added: “We love the printed medium. Print is our core business: we make popular, emotional magazines that are read by millions of people every week. Well-made magazines will always find their readers.”

But Yvonne has overseen a shake-up of the local business which has included a management reshuffle and, over time, the closure of several unprofitable magazines including Grazia, Madison, More, Burke's Backyard and BBC Good Food magazines. The company’s former CEO, Matt Stanton, stepped down at the end of last year and was replaced by Bauer’s London CEO, David Goodchild.

“It hasn’t been easy. In fact it has been a tumultuous two years in which we have experienced unprecedented challenges with the global economy and digital revolution impacting on our business worldwide,” Yvonne wrote in a note to Australian staff. “During this time we have had to take several difficult decisions including the closure of some of our magazines. On the positive side I have very much enjoyed getting to know you and I am excited about many of the developments achieved in this time both in print and digital.”

It’s evident that the Bauers are here to stay as major players in the Australian media landscape, and that Yvonne will oversee even more growth across the local market as opportunities arise. While this is one family that prefers to stay out of the news as much as possible, it’s definitely committed to the media sector on a global level.

This article was originally published in Business Spectator, and is reproduced with permission.

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