Rain bounces from the rooftop outside as the street below sounds with cars and chatter. We are meeting with Dr. József Bayer, CEO of Ringier Axel Springer, one of the biggest magazine publishers in Hungary. He enters wearing a blue striped button down with his sleeves rolled up, smiling big, he greets us as if we are old friends.
He was one half of the Axel Springer founding group in 1989. Then in 2014, the company merged with Ringier Publishing House. In Hungary, they own over 40 print publications, varying from glamour and auto magazines to daily newspapers.
Bayer commands the room with ease, telling anecdotes and surprising no one with his background as a professor.
“My dream … was to create my own company,” Bayer reminisces. “And then I had the chance.”
After getting the idea from his grandmother, Bayer launched the business with around 500,000 euros.
The conference room looks out with six windows, two open letting in a light breeze. Bayer runs his hand across his head full of white hair, reflecting on potential advice for aspiring journalists.
“If you are writing for glamour, understand those ladies, if you are writing for pensioners, it is completely different,” Bayer advises. “You have to understand what your publication and reader needs.”
The entire office lets off a friendly, yet, productive vibe. Gabriella Udvari, a small women with neatly combed gray hair falling just below her jaw, is Bayer’s personal assistant and the woman responsible for our meeting today. Her friendly, assertive attitude illustrate her contributions to Ringier Axel Springer.
Our visit emulates the essence of European hospitality. The conference table is lined with pink- and blue-capped water bottles, giving us the choice between still and sparkling. We munch on pastries as Dr. Bayer continues.
“Originally, we had our print journalists working online, that was a big — I would say huge mistake,” Bayer adds. “Now everyone produces for both online and print.”
The company now employs 150 journalists in house. They have an online presence for all the publications. While, one of their three cooking magazines is not highly profitable online, it is lucrative when you consider the print and online publication as a whole.
Bayer explains the differences between online journalism in Hungary and similar countries versus the United States. He clarifies that in smaller languages, online publications cannot survive on their own. He recognizes both the content and business sides of journalism.
At times, past employees of Ringier Axel Springer try to step out on their own without understanding both sides of the business. Bayer is often able to come in as a guide and partner during those periods. His passion for mentorship emanates as he advises us.
Kennedy Stovall, Baylor University senior from Fort Worth, Texas, leans in to hear Bayer’s main points from over the sound of vehicles several floors down.
“I was pleasantly surprised that the CEO took time out of his day to meet with a group of college students,” Kennedy Stovall says. “It shows how much he cares about the future of journalism.”
Bayer encourages students to be courageous in taking risk.
“I had a clear vision,” Bayer says. “I had the goal to be a market leader …” And, this vision remains realized.