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Axel Springer looks to list online jobs business StepStone

German media group Axel Springer is preparing to spin out and list its online jobs portal StepStone in Frankfurt, hoping to fetch as much as a €7bn valuation for the unit in a stock market debut slated for the first half of next year.

Privately held Axel Springer has appointed Rothschild as its IPO adviser and is in the process of interviewing banks to lead the offering, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Axel Springer said it would not comment on speculation, while StepStone said it was constantly reviewing options to further its growth.

The planned listing is the latest step in the evolution of the German media group since it was taken private in 2019 by buyout group KKR and pension fund CPPIB in conjunction with its major shareholder Friede Springer and the company’s chief executive Mathias Döpfner.

The move comes three months after the company agreed to buy Politico for nearly $1bn, part of the company’s ambition to push into the US media market and build on its earlier acquisition of Business Insider.

Those efforts have been clouded by the company’s handling of allegations against the editor-in-chief of its flagship German daily Bild, one of Europe’s largest circulation newspapers. The editor, Julian Reichelt, is reported to have had a string of affairs with trainees whom he then promoted.

Axel Springer briefly reinstated Reichelt after putting him on probation during a compliance investigation in the spring of 2021. But the company sacked him this month a day after a New York Times article on the extent of problems with the workplace culture at Bild.

The publisher cited “new insights about the current behaviour of Julian Reichelt”, saying he “did not clearly separate private and professional affairs” even after the investigation.

The 2019 take-private deal valued the publisher’s equity at €6.7bn and more than €9bn including debt. It came at a time when the company was warning that revenues and core earnings would decline as it grappled with a tough advertising market.

Döpfner said moving away from the pressures of the public market would benefit the company, which now is organised in four operating segments, including StepStone. The other units are its German media business, which also includes newspaper Die Welt, its international media business and an online property unit.

KKR is Axel Springer’s largest single shareholder with a 35.6 per cent stake. Friede Springer owns 22.5 per cent, Döpfner 21.9 per cent and CPPIB 12.9 per cent, with the rest in the hands of other family members and Friede Springer’s non-profit foundation.

Axel Springer bought StepStone in 2009, with Döpfner saying at the time that it was part of a “clear focus on the further expansion of our digital business” as readers moved online. It bought Totaljobs in 2012. Last year the Berlin-based group lost out to Norway’s Adevinta on a deal to buy eBay’s classifieds business.

StepStone has more than 3,500 employees in more than 30 countries, according to its website.

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