Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH & Co.



Perusing a map of downtown Stuttgart I spot the street where publisher Verlagsgruppe Georg Von Holtzbrinck has their offices and it looks to be maybe a mile from the city center. As usual though things aren't what they seem here in Stuttgart and getting there requires pedaling up more steep switchback streets.

Holtzbrinck, with over 3.2 billion DM in revenues and 10,000 employees, publishes books, business publications and owns a variety of weekly and daily newspapers. USA holdings include book publishers Henry Holt and Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. Many Americans like to keep reading material in the bathroom and the long time leader in this department has been Readers Digest. However, word has it that Holtzbrinck's Scientific American Magazine has been making inroads in this category (just kidding).

It's 4 PM and starting to rain as I arrive at the company's walled-in four-story head office. It's a quiet residential area with some of the spiffy-looking, turn-of-the century mansions being converted into offices. I imagine this was at one time one of THE areas to live.

One can't get on the property or even enter the parking lot unless the sliding gate is opened and it's now closed. I count about a dozen cars in the lot. There's a small guard booth outside the enclosure but it looks like it hasn't been used in years. I see a speaker box with a buzzer near the gate so I press it. The front entrance of the building lies about 40 yards from where I'm standing. I keep pressing the buzzer and get no response. After a good five minutes of standing there pressing the buzzer I spot a woman inside the building and it looks like she's peeking out at me. Hmm, this is weird. Maybe they think I'm a peddler instead of a pedaler and hope I go away. A woman pulls up in a car and gets out. I ask her if she speaks English and she answers, "only a little". She presses the buzzer and after about two minutes with no response she starts yelling out a woman's name. The peek-a-boo woman sticks her head out the building and the two start this long-distance conversation (it's in Spanish I think). The arriving woman then turns to me and says that no one is here and for me to come back another day. Evidently the peek-a-boo woman won't open the gate for this woman unless I'm gone so, I make my exit.

Returning the next day I find the sliding gate open so I quickly pedal inside before anyone has a chance to hide on me again. Checking in with the receptionist I explain who I am and she says "you must be the one who showed up here on a bike yesterday". I nod.

While waiting in the lobby on one of the four comfortable black leather sofas I survey the wide assortment of interesting items. The life-size wood sculpture of a woman from the Middle Ages slaying a dragon gets my attention as does the brown piano. I can't find a name on the piano so I can't tell you if it's a Steinway. The ugly orange carpet sure dates the building that looks like it was built in the 1970's and if I were a betting man I'd bet an old mansion was vanquished to make way for this edifice. From the waiting area I can see into the large grassy backyard which gives you a great view of the city below. Though several pieces of patio furnishings are visible on the back lawn there's nary a BBQ grill in sight.

The coffee table contains a slew of newspapers and publications for visitors to peruse including four issues of Scientific American and Exploration magazines. There's a variety of German newspapers including Handelsblatt (a company-owned, national daily business newspaper), Franfurter Allgemine, Die Zelt and Stuttgarter Nachrichten. The lobby area also contains several display cases filled with several dozen books, which I assume are books published by the company. In one there's a complete 34-volume set of "The Dictionary of Art" . Atop another is a framed picture of a man. Nosy me asks the receptionist who he was. Turns out its Georg von Holtzbrinck, who founded the company. It's now run by three family members.

After a few minutes I'm greeted by Frederik Gerckens. He hasn't a clue as to what I'm doing but received a call telling him to take care of this man showing up on a bike. Gerckens is one of the company's comptrollers and turns out to be a real nice guy
I tell him about my showing up yesterday at 4 PM and finding no one around except for the peek-a-boo woman. He laughs and explains everyone was downstairs for a staff meeting and that the woman in question was the cleaning lady.

I was right when guessing the building was from the 1970's. Built in 1974, about 60 people work here. Want to go jogging? They have showers. Matter of fact, there's an indoor swimming pool and sauna. It's a good thing there's a mom & pop grocery store along with a bakery and sandwich shop a block away because Gerckens says the cafeteria food here is "bad". As I suspect employees get discounts on company books.

I like CEO Dieter von Holtzbrinck's top floor corner office. It's big, has a great view of the city and he can step out onto a large private patio area complete with table and chairs. Lots of interesting items in his office including a stand-up desk, a large tapestry on a wall, an antique clock and real sunflowers. There's also a table literally piled high with books. Holtzbrinck isn't in so I ask his secretary, "are these books you've published or books Mr. Holtzbrinck wants to read?" She says it's a little bit of both, he's an avid reader and the books aren't necessarily published by the company.

Nothing special about the boardroom. It contains one plant and a circular table.