His is a life that has fused art, the media and innovation: Hubert Burda has earned a global reputation as an entrepreneur, publisher, digital pioneer, art historian and executive editor. Today the managing partner of Hubert Burda Media Holding has come to personify his organization's success story. The group, which is fully owned by the Burda family, reported adjusted external sales of 2.79 billion euros in fiscal 2019. In January 1987, when he took over his father's publishing house in Offenburg, it had posted turnover of 500 million deutschmarks – less than a tenth of the current total. In 2010, he entrusted the group's operational management to CEO Paul-Bernhard Kallen. Hubert Burda celebrated his 80th birthday on February 9, 2020. He is married to Maria Furtwängler and their children – Jacob Burda (30) and Lisa Furtwängler (29) – have each owned 37.5% of the group since 2017.
For twelve years, from 1974 to 1986, Hubert Burda was an editor at Bunte. Initially he stepped in when his father Franz – the creator of the German magazine – went on vacation. He then became a top-earning apprentice at the publication, before being appointed its editor-in-chief in 1976. The young man was already familiar with magazine publishing, having garnered practical experience at an array of periodicals during an extended sojourn in the United States. Having started out as a symbol of Germany's economic miracle, Bunte slowly but surely evolved into the country's first celebrity magazine with a weekly circulation of 1.4 million by 1978 – thanks partly to the personal influence of the New York Pop Art icon Andy Warhol.
"As editor-in-chief of Bunte, I adopted two basic principles that I also emphasized during my rounds to the agencies: Bunte stands for the pursuit of happiness, a concept Bazon Brock taught me to appreciate, and Media is Art, which I owe to Andy Warhol," recalls Hubert Burda in his book "The Story of Bunte".
As a publisher, Hubert Burda knows how to navigate diverse, seemingly irreconcilable spheres: the world of journalism, publishing and printing, and that of the visual arts and literature. In his experience, aspects of one can have an inspirational effect on the other. He first recognized the power of images vis-à-vis pure text when pursuing his interests in painting and sculpture, and applied this insight to the field of news media. In doing so, he tapped the potential of images and graphics for the print sector – above all in the digital space. By launching the news magazine Focus in 1993, he opened a new chapter in German journalism history and turned it into an unprecedented commercial success. Another innovation – a radically different style of news presentation featuring graphics and charts – allowed complex content to be conveyed faster. This led to a phenomenon characterized by the art historian Gottfried Boehm as the "Iconic Turn" and which Hubert Burda subsequently cemented in the public consciousness.
Hubert Burda frequently cited an adage from the cultural critic Walter Benjamin: "Where communications change, the foundations of society change as well."
As early as 1994, when the Internet was still in its infancy, Hubert Burda ventured his first electronic news platform: Europe Online. The following year he decided to close it but harnessed the experience he’d gained to soon launch Focus Online. By 2020 this had become the most successful news portal in Germany and the country's largest digital daily. Hubert Burda became one of the first players in the publishing segment to recognize the potential of the digital media revolution and tap it for his company.
At his instigation, Hubert Burda Media embraced this market earlier than others (creation of Focus Online in 1996, investment in Tomorrow Focus AG in 2001) and began to strategically align his organization with the ongoing digitalization.
In his book Landwege Seewege ("Land Routes, Sea Routes"), Hubert Burda describes the transformation of the media:
"Overland routes did not vanish when the new maritime routes opened up the planet to Europeans, and began to dominate global transport. As the new shipping channels appeared, the old overland routes maintained their significance by adapting to the changing circumstances and recognizing their own strengths. The two forms of transport complemented each other. Today, traditional media and social networks enjoy a similar relationship."
By creating and expanding a high-growth portfolio of digital companies, he established the group as a leading digital player in Europe. In 2005, he launched the Digital Life Design (DLD) conference, the most important such forum for discussing new ideas and innovations in the continent's digital sector.
Hubert Burda Media can count Focus, Freundin, Instyle and Bunte among the many magazines it publishes. Its portfolio also features an array of successful internet companies, including the social network Xing, the medical portal Jameda, the e-commerce provider Cyberport, the travel site Holidaycheck, and Focus Online – which is part of BurdaForward, Germany's leading digital publisher. In 2017, Burda acquired Immediate Media, one of the largest media companies in the U.K., along with its TV and radio guide Radio Times.
Today the Hubert Burda Media enterprise stands on very solid ground. On the one hand, it can boast strong and highly profitable publishing operations and, on the other, a high-growth business with digital platforms. Hubert Burda has invested in both over recent decades, and sees the future of the company in both domains. He is setting the example, demonstrating that – to prepare for tomorrow – media companies need cultures that combine a passion for innovation with dedication and respect for tradition.
"The success of an idea is not determined by the size of a company, but by its innovative spirit," says Hubert Burda.
Hubert Burda has published three books during the past few years. Notizen zur digitalen Revolution 1990 – 2015 ("Diary on the Digital Revolution: Notes from 1990-2015") describes the author’s learning process since 1990, which ultimately led him to merge the print publishing company with a dynamic digital provider to build a multimedia group. His work Digitale Horizonte ("Digital Horizons") contains 13 speeches given between 1990 and 2010 that outline his vision for the digital future. His most recent publication, Landwege Seewege ("Land Routes, Sea Routes") marks the final part of his trilogy on the digital revolution. It consists of personal diary entries that document the digitalization of the media and society over a quarter century.
The company has grown forth from roots in the printing business. At a very early stage, it had fully optimized four-color gravure printing, initiating its internationalization in the early 1970s with a new printworks in the United States. Presenting the world in living color is a Burda hallmark: the magazine launched by Franz Burda Senior in 1948 was entitled Bunte because the word means "multicolored.” And the magazine showcased the rainbow of life in all its diversity.
Works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Ernst Heckel and August Macke, a few of Franz Burda Senior's favorite artists, were recently shown at the exhibition The Pictures of the Brothers at Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden, Germany. They chart the beginnings of the art collection in the early 1950s. As a collector, his son Hubert has pivoted towards Concept Art and collaborated with a spectrum of gallery owners, art connoisseurs and dealers – including well-known figures like Konrad Fischer, Franz Dahlem, Heiner Friedrich and Alfred Schmela. His collection includes pieces by Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys and Julian Schnabel. It contains some 2,000 works by contemporary artists, along with examples of 16th and 17th century painting.
In Hubert Burda's eyes, the inner conflicts and turmoil endured by the poet Petrarch made him the first truly modern human. From 1975 to 1995, Hubert sponsored a literary award bearing the Italian humanist's name. The presentation ceremonies were typically held in locations associated with Petrarch's life and work. A dedicated literary circle maintained this tradition from 2010 onwards, awarding the Petrarch Prize to international authors until 2014. The company also sponsored the Hubert Burda Prize for Modern Eastern European Poetry, an award that promotes young poetic talents who captured, and gave voice to, the new spirit infusing the formerly Communist nations. From 1999 to 2009, the Hermann Lenz Prize was presented in honor of the southern German author at locations where he worked. The European Translation Award was jointly established in 2005 by the Hubert Burda Foundation and Offenburg Arts Foundation. It seeks to break down cultural barriers and foster literary exchange in the spirit of European integration.
Hubert Burda was President of the Association of German Magazine Publishers (VDZ) from 1997 to 2016 and is now its honorary president. In 1991, he founded the European Publishers Council (EPC) and defended the interests of publishers on the national and international stages. Since 2000, his Hubert Burda Foundation has been identifying and giving exposure to emerging topics in the fields of science, culture, art, the media and healthcare under the able direction of Dr. Christa Maar. Hubert Burda is sponsoring the Senator Honorary Award which celebrates unpaid volunteers who make significant contributions to civic life in Offenburg and Ortenau. In 2001, following the death of his first son Felix, Hubert Burda founded the Felix Burda Foundation for Bowel Cancer Prevention together with his mother Christa Maar. Since then, 180,000 people with cancer precursors have had them surgically removed, 80,000 deaths from intestinal cancer have been prevented, and a further 40,000 cases detected at an early stage, most of them still curable.
He has received numerous honors and distinctions for his publishing and entrepreneurial achievements. These include Germany's Order of Merit and the Jakob Fugger Medal. In recognition of his support for the European Center of Excellence for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, he was appointed an honorary senator of the Heidelberg University for Jewish Studies. In 2012 he was made an officer of the French Legion of Honor. Hubert Burda has been an honorary citizen of Munich since 2019.
Hubert Burda: Als es noch High & Low gab – Ein Rückblick ins 20. Jahrhundert, Munich 2020
Hubert Burda: Kunst und Medien 2020, Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3889781567