Jens-Uwe Bornemann, Networker, digital pioneer, founder of UFA Lab. Scouting out digital trends before others do.
Diplomat and pragmatist, connecting old and new economy. Digital nomad and mobile worker, mostly up in the air,
coming back down to earth by going offline and out into nature. Senior Vice President Digital Europe, FremantleMedia, Berlin.

Jens-Uwe Bornemann

Working with young start-ups is incredibly inspiring

It’s so exciting to see their energy and enthusiasm, their willingness to break with traditional business models and ignore established structures, Jens-Uwe Bornemann enthuses. My job is to negotiate and communicate very skillfully and to navigate the various activities onto the right track so we end up with something genuinely new. Quite a challenge in itself!

One of Jens-Uwe’s responsibilities at FremantleMedia is to lead the UFA Group’s digital transformation and ensure that the Bertelsmann subsidiary is ready for the future by developing and implementing a coherent digital strategy. Five years ago, he created the UFA Lab for just this purpose, and today, UFA pools all of its digital activities in the Lab. The digital visionary is proud of his achievement: The UFA Lab is a platform that brings together traditional, experienced producers with young, creative digital start-ups. That way, we get the best of both worlds. It all began in a small corner of my office. Today, the Lab has a whole 450 square meters to itself.

It’s where us ‘old-timers’ can sit down with our young talents to develop innovative contents, concepts and business models.

In his position as Senior Vice President Digital Europe, Jens-Uwe Bornemann is in charge of teams in Berlin and Cologne. I spend half the week in Berlin and the other half with my team in Cologne. So I’m constantly flying back and forth. Over the years, he has really come to appreciate planes as both means of transport and a place to work: I’m permanently in transit, given that I am always traveling between national and international destinations.

I must spend about 50 per cent of my working hours
in the air.

So he decided to optimize his daily schedule and makes the most of his travel time by making phone calls and getting on with other tasks. The different time zones, however, can throw a wrench in the works: My boss’s office is in New York. When he gets up it’s already 15:00 for me. I have other colleagues working in San Francisco. Sunrise for them is sunset for me. That makes things rather tricky. I certainly can’t complain about an empty inbox, says Jens-Uwe, laughing. It comes as no surprise, then, to hear that he would prefer a different mode of transport. Teleportation would be fantastic. But for the time being he will have to rely on alternatives in the world of technology, such as smartphones and tablets. Being able to work on the go is extremely helpful. Before modern technology, everyone was bound to their workplace. Leaving your desk was unthinkable. When the first cell phones arrived on the market, I bought one for our producers, because I was tired of not being able to get hold of them when decisions had to be made. Later on, they complained because people could always reach them.

Nevertheless, when he isn’t working, Jens-Uwe likes to go offline. When I go on vacation, I turn off all my gadgets. I need peace and quiet and time for myself. Regular sporting activities and get-togethers with his five siblings help him maintain a good work-life balance. Giving up on traveling, however, isn’t an option. I grew up on an island in the North Sea. I love going there to spend time with my family and enjoy nature. If I could do anything I wanted for a year, I would do a lot of traveling. I would buy myself an around-the-world ticket and take as much time as I liked to explore new countries and different cultures and learn as much about them as possible.

It was his thirst for knowledge that led the qualified economist to Bertelsmann. When I was at university, I focused on the media markets and digitization very early on. At the time, the television sector was the only one that had yet to be digitally transformed. Both the music and print industries looked to be in trouble – especially the former, which almost didn’t make it through the radical change of digitization. With the movie industry, on the other hand, it was a different story: Because it cast its net wide when seeking access to the market, it was able to profit from the digitization process. It was a topic I was very interested in. I wrote my thesis on it and that is how I found my way to Bertelsmann.

The media industry is still being digitized and is confronted with various challenges on a daily basis – but there are also plenty of opportunities to be found, and Jens-Uwe is ready to make the most of them. The way people use media has completely changed, especially since the arrival of the online sector, and there are no longer any hard and fast rules or fixed business models. I think the television sector will always dominate, is his prognosis for the future, but the whole online video market is incredibly fascinating right now with lots of very interesting and exciting start-ups – often with extremely destructive business models. The movie industry has now reached a crossroads.

It can make the same mistakes as some of the other sectors before, or it can make the right decisions for future success.

And what about Bertelsmann? Jens-Uwe thinks that its future is looking bright, especially with initiatives such as the UFA Lab. It is extremely rewarding to have someone put their trust in your idea and to then watch your idea develop and take shape. I see the Lab as one of my greatest achievements so far.

For Jens-Uwe, close collaboration is essential for a project’s success. In every creative team you’ll find strong personalities who are experts in their field. It can be quite a challenge to get them all to work together productively. That can only happen if we all trust each other and are able to voice criticism openly. Feedback and open debate are an integral part of the creative process. So, being able to give and receive feedback is key to success, Jens-Uwe emphasizes. Of course, that doesn’t mean a constant barrage of criticism – that would be counterproductive. That’s also why we organize workshops on how to offer constructive criticism. It’s how we ensure a continuous flow of new ideas. And when you’re so excited about your own idea that you can get others to share your vision and help turn it into reality… that is the most amazing thing that can happen to you. With this in mind, Jens-Uwe keeps his focus firmly on the future by making sure his teams can work in a creative and stimulating environment to explore groundbreaking new business models.

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