Former Trustbuster Tackles Life as Bertelsmann U.S. Chief

Even for most aspiring CEOs, the notion of assuming responsibility for the most massive market in the world on behalf of one of the planet’s six largest media empires would be cause for restless nights. Not for Joel Klein.

“I’m 55,” the former trustbuster cum chief of Bertelsmann’s American operations told a standing-room-only audience on October 4. “I’ve sued Microsoft, I’ve had the Wall Street Journal call me every name in the world. I sleep like a baby.”

Then, taking a slightly more serious tone, Klein addressed the question of competition in an increasingly interconnected global economy. “You see AOL and News Corp. moving into China,” he said of potential competitive nightmares. “You’ve got to keep moving.”

Well aware he was speaking to approximately 150 job-seekers, he made his pitch. He talked about how Bertelsmann sees itself relative to the other “big six” media conglomerates: Viacom, Disney, AOL Time Warner, Vivendi and News Corp. “We position ourselves as the most international media company. In the U.S., we have some work to do.”

Earlier this year, Klein was named chief US liaison officer to Bertelsmann AG and a key strategic advisor to Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Middelhoff. The Bertelsmann empire includes both content and distribution of broadcast, print and online media. Among the properties are Random House, the world’s biggest book-publishing group; BMG, which is among the global music leaders; top European broadcaster RTL Group; and Gruner & Jahr, one of Europe’s strongest magazine publishers.

Klein, who graduated magna cum laude from both Columbia College (1967) and Harvard Law School (1971), gained notoriety as assistant attorney general in charge of the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice. In that capacity, he led the Department’s efforts in landmark antitrust cases, including monopoly challenges against Microsoft, VISA/MasterCard and American Airlines.

Given his career in government and the timing of his visit three weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, it was not surprising that Klein’s most passionate words were on the topic of public service. “I have deep in my bones that public service is the highest calling,” Klein said. “When a nation is in need, it calls on its most talented people.”