Axel Springer heiress anoints CEO Doepfner to succeed her at German publisher

BERLIN (Reuters) - Friede Springer, heiress to German tycoon Axel Springer’s media empire, designated Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner as her successor on Wednesday as she gifted, sold and transferred the right to vote her stake in the business to him.

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The living bequest marks the latest dynastic twist at the publisher whose Bild and Welt newspapers became the leading right-wing dailies in postwar West Germany and which last year was taken private.

Friede was founder Axel Springer’s fifth wife and, after his death in 1985, she consolidated her control over the business.

She entrusted running the business to Doepfner in 2002 and, in a statement released by the company, said she was now completing the handover.

“I have always said that I will ensure continuity in the company,” Friede Springer, 78, said.

“I am very happy and grateful to have found my successor in Mathias.”

Under the arrangement, Friede Springer will sell a 4.1% stake to Doepfner and gift 15% more - bringing the 57-year-old executive’s direct stake to 22%. She is also transferring voting rights to Doepfner for her remaining 22% in the business.

The handover follows a deal last year to delist Axel Springer from the German stock exchange in which private equity house KKR KKR.N bought out minority shareholders, valuing the business at 6.8 billion euros ($7.9 billion).

The valuation on the 4.1% stake sold to Doepfner works out at 276 million euros, based on a KKR filing. Applying a similar benchmark to Friede Springer’s gift of stock makes it worth around 1 billion euros.

The partnership with KKR, which owns around 48% of Axel Springer, seeks to invest in its portfolio of digital and media assets without facing the demand for short-term performance typically sought by investors in public equity markets. ($1 = 0.8589 euros)

Reporting by Klaus Lauer and Douglas Busvine. Editing by Jane Merriman