MUNICH (01/26/2000) - Bertelsmann AG chief Thomas Middelhoff yesterday resigned from America Online Inc.'s (AOL) board of directors.
In an AOL statement yesterday, Middelhoff, who is chairman and chief executive of the German media company, said it is inappropriate to continue on AOL's Board as a result of the merger with Bertelsmann competitor Time Warner Inc.
[See "UPDATE2: AOL to Merge with Time Warner for US$350B," Jan 10.] Middelhoff's board seat will be filled by AOL Vice Chairman Kenneth Novack, AOL said.
The move does not come as a surprise. When AOL and Time Warner announced their merger two weeks ago, Middelhoff told local media that he would likely step down as a result. But Bertelsmann also issued a statement after the merger was announced noting that Middelhoff voted in favor of the Time Warner merger while on the board there.
AOL and Bertelsmann have a 50:50 joint venture in Europe, AOL Europe. It has 3 million members in nine countries, and includes the brands AOL and CompuServe, as well as the recently launched Netscape Online service in the U.K.
Bertelsmann and AOL also have a 50:50 joint venture in Australia.
Bertelsmann at one time had a roughly 5 percent share in AOL, but has reduced that more recently to less than 1 percent, Bertelsmann spokesman Marcus Payer said in a telephone interview in early January.
Bertelsmann has also continued to pursue its own online strategies in Europe, such as launching BOL, (Books Online International), a series of online bookselling sites across Europe. [See "Bertelsmann to Open Online Bookstore," Jan. 25, 1999.]Bertelsmann, based in Gütersloh, Germany, can be reached at +49-5241-80-0 or on the Web at http://www.bertelsmann.de/.