Albert Frère, the man who shaped much of the European television landscape, has died at the age of 92.
The richest man in Belgium had inherited his father’s nail and chain merchants business at the age of 17. He began to invest in Belgian steel factories and went on to turn it into an infrastructure company that encompassed media, utilities and oil.
An investor in Compagnie Luxembourgoise de Télédiffusion (CLT), the Luxembourg company that ran the RTL stations in Luxembourg, France, Germany and Belgium, he sold his 30% stake on to Bertelsmann, reflecting a career enthusiasm for international consolidation of his businesses.
In April 1996, against a backdrop of several turbulent months in Europe’s audiovisual sector, Frère engineered a strategic agreement between GBL and German media group Bertelsmann, which resulted in bringing together its audiovisual and production activities (UFA) to the activities of CLT. As the architect of this major transaction, Frère gave CLT an opportunity to lean on the resources of a powerful financial and industrial operator and its activities in the production sector, whilst Bertelsmann found in CLT a pan-European audiovisual company widely acknowledged for its expertise.
The two partners complemented each other perfectly, and it was this merger that laid the foundations for the subsequent creation of Europe’s largest audiovisual player, today’s RTL Group.
For almost 12 years (from 30 April 2003 to March 2015), Frère was also Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Groupe M6, in which RTL Group is the controlling shareholder.
“Albert Frère played a key role in the development of our Group. As a strategist, he stood out for his perspicacity, flair and determination, qualities which he always used to benefit the companies with which he was associated. In the early 1980s, fate led him to CLT,” said RTL Group CEO Bert Habets and CFO Elmar Heggen in a joint statement.
“He grew particularly fond of the Luxembourg-based company, as evidenced by the fact that for 20 years he served as a Director of our company. He played a crucial role in the rapprochement with Bertelsmann and the GBL-Bertelsmann shareholding exchange in 2001, allowed our group to have since then a strong and long-term oriented majority shareholder. Frère thereby made a significant contribution towards RTL Group’s evolution into what it is today.”