Dr. Helen Müller
Head of Cultural Affairs and Corporate History
Corporate responsibility – taking responsibility for the social and environmental aspects of our business – might be a new term, but not a new practice at Bertelsmann. Societal responsibility has played a major role since the company was first established in 1835.
The founder of the publishing company, Carl Bertelsmann (1791-1850), laid the cornerstone for a comprehensive civic and social engagement that was systematically continued by succeeding generations. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the family's sense of responsibility to the community was expressed not only in taking on public offices and financially supporting municipal institutions, but also in creating a 'social support culture' for its own employees, involving assistance in the event of illness and marriage, as well as the recognition of special achievements.
Bertelsmann's post-war founder Reinhard Mohn (1921-2009), brought a new quality to the issue of "civic participation." Together with his staff, in 1959 he developed a new decentralized organizational structure, which was codified a year later in the first corporate constitution, known at the time as the Grundsatzordnung, or "Basic Order." Further milestones in the company's culture followed with the introduction of profit participation in 1970 and the establishment of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a non-profit foundation, in 1977. The Employee Survey also made its debut that year.
From the introduction of the Bertelsmann Essentials defining our shared goals and values in 1998, and a Code of Conduct applicable to all employees in 2008, it was only a few steps to the CR management that characterizes the Group today.
Bertelsmann's long tradition also gives rise to a special responsibility of examining and reflecting on our own history, to actively research and communicate it both within the company and externally. Important impetus was given to this by the work of the Independent Historical Commission that researched Bertelsmann's conduct during the Third Reich and led to the establishment of the Corporate Archives in 2003. As the central point of contact for all historic issues relating to the company, the Corporate Archives team secures and documents all resources relevant to the company's history. These efforts are intended as a way of integrating the company’s history into its corporate culture and communications. In doing so, the tradition of corporate responsibility at Bertelsmann is carried forth in the company, helping to ensure that it is actively recalled and kept alive.