The combative German media magnate poised for another high-octane move against Formula One motor racing impresario Bernie Ecclestone is no stranger to conflict and is used to getting his own way.
Though a bribery case brought against Ecclestone by Dieter Hahn’s Constantin Medien was dismissed last year, Hahn is now working with a consortium on a bid to buy a controlling stake in Formula One in a potential $8 billion deal, a source told Reuters last week.
The consortium is being led by the owner of the Miami Dolphins American Football team and the Gulf state of Qatar.
Hahn, 54, has built a reputation for being a dogged adversary, exemplified by the way he helped the heirs of the late Leo Kirch to bring the mighty Deutsche Bank to its knees in an acrimonious decade-long legal battle.
Kirch, who died in 2011, blamed the bank for the 2002 demise of his life’s work after Deutsche’s chief executive at the time questioned the creditworthiness of his KirchGruppe media company in a television interview.
The case was settled last year in a deal costing Deutsche about 925 million euros ($1 billion) after Hahn’s army of lawyers and spin doctors tormented Deutsche Bank in and out of court. Among their tactics was the hijacking of shareholder meetings by asking management question after question.
“We have used all legitimate opportunities available to a shareholder,” Hahn told German newspaper Die Zeit in a rare interview last year.
Hahn’s negotiating skills will come as no surprise to Ecclestone. The pair first crossed swords more than a decade ago, when Hahn won Formula One broadcasting rights for his boss and mentor Kirch despite Ecclestone’s best efforts.
While Ecclestone prevailed in the more recent Constantin Medien lawsuit over the deal that brought CVC Capital Partners into Formula One as top shareholder, Hahn clearly does not give up easily. After the case was dismissed, Constantin CEO Bernhard Burgener told shareholders that the company would do everything possible to recoup money it says it is owed by Ecclestone.
For all their previous tussles, however, Hahn and Ecclestone could yet form a new Formula One alliance, people familiar with the men told Reuters.
“Rich people can sue each other and still be friends,” one of the sources said.
Hahn declined to comment, but the sources said that Ecclestone, who has ruled over the sport for four decades, would continue to lead the racing side of the business while Hahn would run the television rights marketing.
Having cut his teeth at Axel Springer, publisher of German newspaper Bild, Hahn moved to Munich to run sports broadcasting company DSF.
He soon attracted the attention of Kirch and was recruited to manage KirchGruppe in 1997, going on to secure television rights for the 2002 and 2006 soccer World Cups, becoming Kirch’s right-hand man in the process.
Hahn is now biggest shareholder of Constantin Medien, which markets events including UEFA Champions League soccer and owns sport TV production company Plazamedia.
Yet clues to his business methodology could have been gleaned from the very start of his career, when an apprenticeship in banking gave way to law studies and a doctoral thesis entitled “Hostile Takeovers of Companies”.
Whether he emerges from the quest for Formula One as Ecclestone’s friend or foe, he’s sure to drive a hard bargain.