“I have been working in the group for 42 years so I have been through different periods,” explains Bonnier for MediaChange. “When I started, we were 50 percent industial company with paper production, dental equipment, furniture production… You could not grow in all industries at the same time, so we decided to go back to our core business, which were the media. We sold then the rest and invested more in the media, what we still continue doing today. Our media conglomerate is growing and we will probably start thinking either divesting or pruning the tree, we could say.”

Building a long-standing family business tradition

Nowadays Bonnier Group is being run already by some of the members of the family’s seventh generation. With more than 9,000 employees in 17 countries, 210 years old business is in a 100 percent family ownership. “The most valuable part of human body is the human brain”, metaphorically pointed out Hans Jacob Bonnier when explaining the long-standing family business tradition, to illustrate some of the challenges of family governance rejuvenation.

The Group´s structure is decentralized, with leadership responsibilities delegated as much as possible. The company’s founder Gerhard Bonnier started to publish books Copenhagen in 1804. He had 11 children. As illustrates Hans-Jacob Bonnier: “Fertility is good for family companies as long you can manage it. Generation shifts in family companies are very difficult tasks and a generation conflict has to be a part of that. So you have to be good friends, have trust in each other and let the best get to the top!”

Since 1998, the leadership of Bonnier Group was governed through the structure of general assembly of the mother company that included only family members. As Bonnier explains, the Group confronted certain challenges when defining their family business. “Aging, need for professionalism, unclear owner directives and complex structure were our main problems and in 2014 we therefore made a new structure. The General Assembly now appoints the Family Council, the Bonnier Holding Board and the Nominations Committee.” The Bonnier Holding Board is consisted of eight ordinaries and two deputies. Twenty-four family members take active part in working with the Committees.

Hans Jacob Bonnier emphasizes Owners’ Directive interpreting the company’s vision, values, financial and governance guidelines. Bonnier’s core values include planning for the next generation’s sustainable environment, the empowerment and the enabling of the individual, the importance of culture, diversity and inclusive society and, above all, being servants of the free speech. The essence of Bonnier Group represents the last core value. “My great grandfather used to say we were the servants of freedom of speech, so we should try and be as objective as we can and give room to different opinions”.

Thriving through the changing paradigm of the media industry

With a strong historic core in journalism and book publishing, Bonnier Group has been deeply engaged with the digital transformation. Hans Jacob Bonnier explains for MediaChange: “We are amidst a change as big as when Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing machines 600 years ago. The paradigm shift was created again by the technical evolution and nobody knows where this will end”.

Focused on digital transformation, since 2014 the Group has put special attention to ensure growth in digital subscriptions and paid content across all businesses. B2B activities have always been a key driver to improve business performance. In 2014, the Group was selling 228,200 subscriptions for the various business and trade publications within B2B at Bonnier and 5.6 million was the average number of unique visitors per week for all of the news sites within Bonnier News.

Hans-Jacob Bonnier explains that video became a major focus for newspapers, what helps them own their content over all digital platforms. “Smartphone users check their phones more than 221 times a day, according to an October 2014 U.K. report from Techmark. The age of the app is in full swing!” And he proudly confirms this by revealing that in the last five years Bonnier’s Toca Boca, children’s toy app exceed 82 million downloads.

”Now everybody thinks that web news are free of charge, but if you want to keep the most intelligent and creative journalists, you have to pay them. So we try to change this trend and find the people, who will pay for our news”.

Within Bonnier’s net sales 2.7 billion euro in 2014, books and broadcasting own the mayor stake. Swedish book publisher Bonnier Förlagen delivers 53,000 books every workday. Bonnier owns over 300 media brands worldwide.  However, Sweden contributes the largest revenue stake of this Nordic  media group with 57 percent and less than a quarter or revenues derive from countries outside Scandinavia.


Photo credits: Jernej Lasič