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Martin El-Khouri

Martin actually wanted to pursue a career as a musician and achieve fame with his rock band. Although he’s now doing something completely different, he still works creatively as a Senior Director at Bertelsmann Investments. He joined Bertelsmann as a trainee and completed a program that prepares humanities graduates for management positions. He is now networking with people from emerging businesses whose innovative ideas will future-proof the Group.


What did you do before you joined Bertelsmann?

Before joining Bertelsmann, I worked as an editor and reporter for ZDF’s “heute” TV news program. At the same time, I was working as an external consultant for GIZ, a German development organization, supporting two projects in Yemen. I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and studied international relations and global political economy in my master’s degree. While still a student, my brother and I founded the International Patient Service Germany GmbH, a medical services company bringing people from the Caucasus and the Middle East to Germany for medical treatment.

When and why did you decide to join Bertelsmann?

My job as a ZDF reporter was very enjoyable, but somehow I felt something was missing. I was always reporting on what other people were doing – but I wanted to do something myself. Then by chance I came across Bertelsmann’s Creative Management Program, today known as the Creative Track of the Future Leaders Program, which prepares humanities graduates for work in management positions. It was clear to me that as I like being able to shape and create things in my work, I either needed to be in management or be self-employed. The trainee program sounded exciting by combining creativity with entrepreneurship. Although it seemed like a backward step at first, from being a reporter and political consultant to being a trainee, I knew I had to apply for the program.

Did you ever think you would one day have the job you have now?

No. I am a Senior Director at Bertelsmann Investments (BI), the global venture capital arm of Bertelsmann. One of my tasks here is to drive Web3 forward, which is a great passion of mine. BI specifically invests in innovative and emerging companies. I might have seen myself more on the other side, i.e., as the founder of a start-up dealing with investors, but I also find the side I’m on now very appealing.

How would you describe your job to your grandmother?

I would tell her that I help young entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into reality. I also make sure that innovations from these founders get transferred into the Group. I’m therefore also ensuring that Bertelsmann is well positioned for the future.

"I’m passionate about interacting and communicating with others."

How do you find these fledgling entrepreneurs, or how do they find you?

One way is through our funds such as Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments. Another is by talking to people from these start-ups. I now have an extensive network, especially regarding the topic of Web3. I’m a speaker at numerous events, serve on panels, and share my knowledge with the global Web3 community. So I get into conversations with people who then realize that this huge media group also provides many opportunities for what they are offering. Bertelsmann Investments is perhaps not the best-known venture capital fund right now, but people get excited as soon as they find out what brands are behind the name.

What makes your job exciting?

Following innovations as they emerge in different markets around the world. By networking with the creators of these innovations, I forge links with Bertelsmann and thus also help to ensure that this Group has a sustainable future. I’m passionate about interacting and communicating with others, so I’m talking with colleagues in China, Brazil, India and especially in Africa, something else close to my heart alongside Web3. Web3 is not only gaining extreme momentum in general, but is also a really exciting and enormously important topic for us as a Group, and thus also for BI.

Has there ever been a fork in your career path? Which way did you take?

I had to make a decision when I found out about the Creative Management Program: whether I wanted to make the leap. It also meant that I would not see my then-girlfriend and now-wife as often as I would have. I really wanted to do the program, even though I didn’t like the idea of being away from her so much. But we agreed that certain hardships were simply necessary if you wanted to make a difference. I am very grateful for her incredible support.

"Creativity means being able to think outside the box and sometimes around corners."

What motivates you?

Creating things motivates me. I love developing concepts, being able to implement them, and taking responsibility for them. It’s great to be able to work with others to take on an issue and drive it forward. Trying out something unconventional, taking risks.

What is your greatest strength?

My enthusiasm and passion. When I am convinced that something is right and worth fighting for, I can then also persuade others. I’m also always open to critical feedback. Others say that I always put people first. I can then establish long-lasting and valuable relationships.

Entrepreneurship and creativity are at the core of Bertelsmann’s values. What meaning do they have for you?

Creativity means being able to think outside the box and sometimes around corners. Creatives look at an issue or a market and then boldly go about developing a vision. You only have to think of Joanne K. Rowling, how she came up with the Harry Potter world. To imagine all this, you first need to think really big. Entrepreneurship is then needed to patiently and passionately find ways to achieve what has been envisioned.

Where do you prefer to work?

I think there’s nothing better than being out and about. I get inspired by attending events and talking to people who want to share their know-how with me. When I get home, I note down my impressions and think about how what I’ve heard and experienced might be used, and where the opportunities for Bertelsmann might be.

What does flexible working mean for you?

Flexibility for me means having a clearly defined goal and being able to decide for myself how best to achieve it – and where to work to do so. Flexible working requires a lot of trust, and it makes my life easier, allowing me to balance my personal and professional life in the best possible way. It also saves time and costs. Getting the balance right frees up my mind, and I have more energy for work.

"Getting the balance right frees up my mind, and I have more energy for work."

Who or what inspires you?

My father. He came to Germany from Syria and, despite all the adversities, established something for himself here, without parents who could have supported him. He has always been a role model for me, because his story shows what is possible when you do well and are guided by values and principles. My wife is also an inspiration to me. Her pragmatism has taught me a lot, also for my professional life. I tend to be quick in taking things to heart. In contrast, she always stays calm, an example I’m trying to follow.

What is important to you in developing your career?

Three things: creative freedom, leadership, responsibility.

What comes to mind when you consider your professional future?

I want to lead my own team and take responsibility for a topic that will have a decisive impact on Bertelsmann’s future. As I already mentioned, I am very interested in Web3, a topic of major importance to Bertelsmann, especially in our content businesses. I can also certainly imagine working abroad. I dream of doing something big in the Middle East someday, or being among the people having a lasting impact on Web3.

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