“Live without pretending, love without depending, listen without defending, speak without offending”
My essence is to nurture and inspire the human spirit in innovators, entrepreneurs and executives worldwide. I support leaders to empower others and be empowered by finding their own meaning outside of the story we are all born into – to challenge the status quo and belief systems we were told to hold sacred and absolute.
I am a „from-Idea-to-Vision-to-Strategy-to-Execution Guy“, structured and placed over US$1bn investments, founded 20+ companies, raised 3 kids, and produced 3 global media classics.
I am a father, friend, entrepreneur, lawyer, film producer, and public speaker. My academic studies were in Munich, Berlin, Los Angeles, and Berkeley; currently, I divide my time between Berlin and Amsterdam. With my investment holding Argo Ventures, I have founded and co-founded companies on two continents since 1986, and have structured and placed 20 investment funds. With my company Greenlight Media, I have produced more than 150 episodes of TV animation and global hits such as Deep Blue and Planet Earth, influencing more than 1bn people on how they perceive sustainability and the role of humans on our planet. My business philosophy follows Peter Drucker’s simple wisdom: „Culture eats strategy for breakfast“ while my life philosophy is „to become the awareness behind my thoughts and feelings“. I reject the ideology-based mindset which prevents convincing with reason as it rather manipulates with fear.
As an entrepreneur, I have experienced great successes, and overcome bitter defeats and considerable challenges. These include steering my group of companies through the major global economic crises of 2001 and 2008, defending them successfully against hostile takeovers while striving to reinvent myself each time. I am in a constantly humbling process of learning the essence of Socrates’ teachings: “The unexamined life is not worth living” and the differences between economical success and personal fulfillment.
I currently focus all my energy on my role as an initiator of the global community for courageous innovators, executives, and entrepreneurs: “The Argonauts” with the vision to nurture a global shift from the transactional, scarcity-based mindset to a transformational, abundance-of-life driven paradigm of life, creating a new planetary resonance – one conversation at a time.
I was born into an entrepreneurial family. Early on, I discovered my passion for entrepreneurship: At the age of 16, I became the first ‚bicycle doctor‘ in Germany, and from there starting to lead a team of classmates who came to customers‘ homes to repair their bicycles.
At the age of 16
First bicycle doctor in Germany
At 18, during my senior year at the Oskar-von-Miller Gymnasium in Munich, I crossed the US$ 1 million mark in sales for the first time by exporting German high class cars to California for which I had founded a joint company with a former classmate of my former Los Angeles high school. I later on sold my shares to my business partner.
First sales million through the export of German cars
I worked on my next business idea while studying for my high school diploma in 1986. At night, I soldered together the mother boards of a home-made sound mixer system for DJs in the basement of my parents‘ apartment and sold the devices after school. Further production was discontinued in favor for my high school exam (Abitur).
Abitur and sale of self-built DJ mixing systems
Immediately after leaving high school, I turned my passion for photography and marketing into a career. In 1986, I founded the advertising agency „Images“ to finance my law and history studies at the Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich. The agency quickly grew to over 20 employees and became known for innovative advertising campaigns for Philip Morris and Radio 7. When it came to taking my first qualifying exam as a lawyer, I sold the agency to my partners in order to prepare for my legal career. The company eventually sold to DDB Group.
Founding of the advertising agency, „Images“
Law and history studies at the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich
The advertising agency’s subsidiary, „Syndicat de la Mode“, grew from a customer advertising account in 1987. It became one of the first specialist companies in Germany to use textiles as merchandising items and quickly became the largest of its kind in Germany. With customers from Armani to BMW, the company is still successfully operating today.
Subsidiary „Syndicat de la Mode“, first specialised company for merchandise articles
In 1992 I experienced a major paradigm shift. From one day to the next, I went from single-entrepreneur-party-minded person to a father with a kid. A strong inner voice inside of me told me I was on the wrong path. I could not yet give words to this intuition, but I trusted and followed it. So Juliane and her daughter Zoe, age 2, moved into my apartment and life, and at the age of 26, I would become a family father plus entrepreneur (and plus law student at that time) practically over night. While my head was telling me I was not ready for this, by far, yet, my heart told me otherwise. I followed my heart.
Yet, I was young, just about to finish law school and give up the advertising business, so I had to combine family life with the challenges of a long distance relationship while pursuing a career.
I took up a legal position in Los Angeles in 1993 at the firm Chrystie & Berle and advised clients in the film industry on issues of financing film projects. My permanent mandate was to restructure the film investments of Credit Lyonnais which lost tens of billions of dollars in Hollywood in the early 1990s. In the process of this mandate, I indirectly controlled a film rights portfolio of over 2,000 titles which led to the opportunity for a German media conglomerate to build its own film studio based on this portfolio. During this tenure, I acquired extensive expertise in film financing, restructuring, and the inner workings of the international film industry. At the same time, I also studied comparative law within a special program provided by the University of California in Los Angeles, Davis and Berkeley. I moved to Berlin to finish my studies at the Freie Universität and passed law school in 1995.
Juliane and Zoe became part of my life and I was a family man over night and ever since
Law firm Chrystie & Berle in Los Angeles
Restructuring of Credit Lyonnais‘ investments
Studied in Los Angeles and Berkeley
1st State Law Examination in Berlin
In 1996 I joined the investment bank ABN Amro Bank in London and their media team. In the same year, I founded Argo Ventures, at that time still a personal investment company. The first project was the Greenlight Media Film Production. With Greenlight I began the production of the animated series Simsalagrimm, which I developed as an author and producer, inspired by an idea of my daughter Zoe. I arranged the financing of Simsalagrimm by innovating a gap financing structure that was new for the German film industry. This novel structure transferred concepts from real estate financing to the media world, working together with the bank partner Reuschel & Co in Munich. I also decided to continue my legal career parallel with my entrepreneurial ambitions and became a fully licensed attorney 1998 in Berlin, where I was now living with my wife and daughter.
Investment Bank ABN Amro Bank
Founding Argo Ventures
Greenlight Media GmbH’s first project: Simsalagrimm
Admission to the bar
With the completion of the animation series Simsalagrimm on the basis of the Grimm fairy tales in 1999/2000 and the subsequent global success of the format, my Argo Ventures developed the BAF animation fund with a capital of 168 million deutschmarks for the investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. In 2001, Argo Ventures then designed the BAF II successor fund with a volume of DM 240 million, which, like its predecessor, was also backed by a Dresdner Bank guarantee. Initial takeover bids were discussed, and an IPO was not excluded. „The sky is the limit“ was the motto of my entrepreneurial era at that time.
In 2000, my second daughter Lynn was born, lifting my life to unknown heights.
Development of the BAF Animation Fund I and II, total capital 408 million DM
Birth of Stefan’s 2nd daughter Lynn
Soon afterward, however, the friendly skies of this positive entrepreneurial climate became ominously dark. In 2001/2002, in the wake of the dotcom and media crisis, the Kirch Group and most of the other New Media-listed media companies became insolvent. Consequently, the banks withdrew abruptly from the financing of film productions. For that reason the co-production partners of the BAF Film Fund to run into economic difficulties which caused them to be unable to fulfill their co-production contributions. As a result, and after tough negotiations but with great success, Greenlight Media sold its stake in the fund in 2002 to the fund initiator, Dresdner Bank, and its investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. The bank did not follow Greenlight Media’s favored strategy but instead planned to merge its entire European media investment into one platform.
Dotcom and media crisis
Sale of shareholdings and Dresdner Bank
Argo Ventures then continued the strategy with Greenlight Media by itself. After a complete restructuring of the business model and reduction of the company to a core entrepreneurial team of a few partners and employees, Greenlight bought the international film distribution company Peppermint in 2003 with a film library of more than 1,000 titles from the insolvency estate of Helkon Media AG. This allowed Greenlight to expand its international presence in the film business and to cooperate with media giants such as Dentsu and Gaga Group in Japan. Subsequently, Greenlight produced various international documentary and animation film and television projects.
In 2002 Juliane and I married after being together for 10 years. In 2003, our son Jacob was born, completing my inner core as a family man and father, gifting us with a state of absolute gratefulness and fulfillment.
Acquisition of the international film distributor Peppermint
Production of several film and television projects
Marriage with Juliane and birth of son Jacob, completing the core of my being
In 2005, Argo Ventures negotiated, structured and funded a revolutionary five-picture deal for Greenlight Media with BBC Worldwide to produce five combined nature-based TV and cinema productions. To concentrate on this joint venture, Greenlight sold its stake in Peppermint to the management. Greenlight Media’s concept brought the nature documentary film to the big screen. As a result, the combination of TV series and feature film with spin-offs such as live concerts were able to become a major global media event. Even the very first project, „Blue Planet“/“Deep Blue“, achieved box office records with over US $ 30 million and was able to establish nature documentary movies as suitable for cinema. From 2008 onwards, media history was written with the follow-up project „Planet Earth“. Tens of Millions of DVDs and over $110 million box-office revenues speak for themselves.
In total, I produced more than 150 episodes of TV Animation and surpassed the US$200 million mark at the box office globally with all my movie projects. Until today, „Planet Earth“ in its various forms of media has been experienced by over 1bn people, influencing the way they perceive sustainability and the role of humans on our planet.
In both 2005 and 2008, Greenlight Media’s movie projects each accounted for more than 50% of all worldwide export earnings of the entire German film industry together.
Revolutionary five-picture deal with BBC Worldwide with Deep Blue as its first project
2008 Planet Earth
Tens of Millions of DVDs sold and more than US $ 200 million in box office revenues
Over 1bn people have been influenced by the „Planet Earth“ Franchise until today
In 2005 and 2008, these sales constitute 50% of the global export earnings of the entire German film industry
Planet Earth is now regarded as having paved the way for nature documentary features film worldwide. In 2008, the project also enabled the founding of Walt Disney’s new movie label, Disney Nature. In 2016, Argo Ventures and Greenlight Media structured the successor Filmproduction, the co-production Planet Earth II between the BBC, Disney and the Shanghai Media Corporation. The TV series was broadcast in 2017 and the movie was released in cinemas worldwide in 2018.
In 2005, TV broadcasters ARD and France 2 gave the green light for a second season of the hit series Simsalagrimm, which was completed in 2007. Now running at 52 episodes, the series is still one of the long-running hits on the ARD channels and is one most well known German children’s brands. The series has been broadcast in over 100 countries all over the globe.
Founding of new movie label from Walt Disney: Disney Nature with Planet Earth as the premiere film
Second season of the hit series Simsalagrimm, broadcast in over 100 countries
In total, I have produced over 150 episodes of TV animations and several animated and documentary films in various producer functions. With Simsalagrimm, Deep Blue and Planet Earth, I have created three world hits with Greenlight Media which are considered classics today.
In addition to setting up Greenlight Media, I became the largest active angel investor of Gate 5 AG with my Argo Ventures in 2003. I helped the startup fund and shape its new business model: the first company to bring digital maps to mobile phones. This business model became an overwhelming success after Gate 5 sharply pivoted after the 2001 dotcom bust, while it had to narrowly avoid more technical and financial cliffs in the subsequent years. At the end of 2006, Gate 5 had a working product in the market and was successfully sold to Nokia for €150 million. This exit sparked the Berlin tech start-up scene seeing their first major international exit, making it the first tech-startup in Berlin with more than 1.000 employees and reaching billions in sales. Today, the company belongs to a consortium of German automobile manufacturers under the name „Here“ whose technology enables the industry to make the quantum leap to the autonomous automobile of the future.
Produced three world hits: SimsalaGrimm, Deep Blue and Planet Earth
Largest active angel investor in Gate 5 AG
Sale of Gate 5 to Nokia for € 150 million
2005 was also the birth of another portfolio company of his Argo Ventures, the Berlin Atlantic Group. Being the largest investor with € 15 million in equity capital contribution, Argo Ventures was represented by me in the group’s strategic holding. In the following years, the Berlin Atlantic Group grew to become one of the 10 largest closed-end-funds issuing houses in Germany, concentrating on three investment fields in Germany and the USA.
For Berlin Atlantic, Argo Ventures structured the Life Trust and Infra Trust Fund Series, supporting their placement with a total capital of € 285 million. The life trust funds were a true innovation in the life insurance industry in the US. For the first time these funds enabled policyholders, rather than the insurer, to participate in the inherent value of their insurance policies. Argo Ventures managed the first life trust funds on behalf of the Berlin Atlantic and achieved successful exits valued US $ 19.8 million.
In June 2008, Argo Ventures structured a US $ 500 million warehouse credit agreement with Wachovia Bank. The beneficiary was LTAP LLC, a subsidiary of the Life Trust Funds. The line of credit was part of Wachovia’s US $ 2 billion strategic investment as the seventh largest US bank that guaranteed LTAP LLC and its German investors a capital-market exit worth billions.
In summer 2008 I was a billionaire on paper – in November 2008, not anymore.
Birth of the BAC – Berlin Atlantic Group
Argo Ventures becomes the biggest investor in BAC with € 15mn
Argo Ventures structured the Life Trust and Infra Trust Funds Series, totaling € 285 million
First successful fund exit values of US $ 19.8 million
US $ 500 million credit line with Wachovia Bank within a US $ 2 billion strategic investment and a a pre-structured exit valued at US$5bn
Summer 2008: Billionaire on paper. November 2008: Back to zero
With this milestone in my entrepreneurial activities achieved under a sunny blue entrepreneurial sky, unforeseen storm clouds soon followed my, forcing me to spend several years of rerouting my ship through severe thunderstorms and sharp cliffs that almost threatened my business existence:
At the end of 2008, the Berlin Atlantic Group got into in trouble as a result of the financial crisis triggered by the Lehman Bank. As a result, Wachovia was forcibly merged with the Wells Fargo. Finally, in 2010 Wells Fargo terminated the loan agreement with a subsidiary of the Berlin Atlantic Group, the LTAP LLC, and foreclosed on portions of the assets of the LTAP in 2011.
But that’s not all: at the same time, the company was attacked by a series of ultimately unsuccessful hostile takeover attempts against the Infratrust funds and their assets between 2010 and 2013 . To ward off these attacks, I moved to Atlanta with my family on behalf of the investors at the end of 2011 and dedicated myself to the restructuring efforts for the next few years.
In terms of private life, my family had to pay a high price: My marriage did not survive, in 2014 and after 23 years of an amazing, life-fueling relationship, the burdens of this hard time. The hardest turning point in my life, shattering my spirits and shaking me to the core.
Because of these attacks, which were led by my opponents by all means of the digital information war and methods of professional corporate hitmen, the operational activity of the Berlin Atlantic had to be stopped in 2011 and restructured.
The issuing house Berlin Atlantic Capital AG was then sold in 2012 to the Hamburg ID Immobilien AG. Argo, however, had to write off large parts of its investments in the BAC funds. The partner Franz-Philippe Przybyl and his ILMG Management GmbH took over LTAP and the Life Trust funds. Franz-Philippe also was also commissioned by the Life Trust investors to merge the assets of the Life Trust Funds and LTAP into a joint business led by him.
Already in 2011, I managed to sell the majority in CIG Wireless, a subsidiary of Berlin Atlantic in the USA, to the Swiss financial investor Enex SA and refinance the corporation with US $ 20 million. Together, Argo and Enex then listed CIG on the New York stock exchange. In addition, Macquarie Bank New York granted the company a US $ 150 million line of credit in 2012. This enabled the company to embark on a rapid growth course. This was followed by a series of further major transactions totaling just under $ 70 million. With the entry of financial investors Housatonic and Firtree, CIG’s corporate value was eventually increased to $ 140 million which exited by a reprivatisation and tradesale in 2015, giving its institutional investors a net profit of over $ 90 million in just under three years.
world financial crisis hits the Berlin Atlantic Group
Wachovia Bank goes into crisis and merges with Wells Fargo
2010-2013 Defense against unfriendly takeover attempts
2011 Family relocation to Atlanta
My marriage did not survive the hardships of these years
2011 Cessation of operations of the Berlin Atlantic
2012 Sale of Berlin Atlantic Capital AG and LTAP
Sale of CIG Wireless to Enex SA, refinancing with US $ 20 million
Macquarie funds CIG with US $ 150 million
Additional equity financing of US $ 70 million
Exit at CIG with over $ 90 million in profit
In 2015, one of Argo Ventures‘ most promising projects had to close its doors – „Txtr“. Argo was able to get 3M New Ventures as principal investor on board for the company in the years before and even made a significant investment as an angel investor. Despite building the world’s second-largest e-book rights catalog, Txtr had to join the likes of Barnes & Noble, Sony, and other major players who all had to leave the market place not being able to gain enough market share against Amazon’s Kindle.
In challenging hard times my private life began to see the sun again when I met the love of my life, Loes Fokker from Amsterdam, who brought the female resonance that has complimented my soul every since.
With that new energetic momentum, the entrepreneurial sun also began to shine again when Infratrust Funds 6 & 8, for which Argo Ventures and asset manager Stephan Brückl put under the helm of their asset management, turned it into a successful 2016 restructuring project with a 135% profit through a trade sale for more than $ 28 million. With that sale, the value of the assets from the time of the takeover by Argo was increased by a multiple of 4.
3M New Ventures as Principal Investors for Txtr
Defeat of „Txtr“ by Amazon
Meeting my soul partner for life
Successful restructuring of Infratrust Funds with 135% profit for investors
In 2016, I decided to take Argo Ventures to a new level. Together with Sascha Grumbach, I repositioned Argo Ventures and created the Argo Venture Studio.
At the core of the Argo Venture Studio is Argo Ventures as an active venture builder. In addition, the venture advisory Argo Advisory was founded, which offers training and consulting for cultural and digital transformation. Customers of Argo Advisory include the Walt Disney Company, Kaiser Permanente and many other industry leaders. The investment activities of Argo Ventures have been moved to Argo Capital. From 2020 on, the Argo Venture Studio activities concentrated on Venture Building and Argo Capital, only, integrating the Advisory group into the two arms.
In early 2017, I sold my stake in Greenlight Media to my founding partner Nikolaus Weil. I bought back my shares in August 2020 when a new opportunity was brought to me to rekindle my executive producing skills.
Also in 2017, Argo Capital restructured a joint investment portfolio of two Family Offices with a volume of € 150 million and took over its asset management.
I am honored to have been invited to a group of outstanding entrepreneurial partners in the company Monarch founded by world-class leaders such as Benjamin Rohe, Dr. Sandro Gayken, Prof. Dr. Stefan Kirsten, Seamus Tucker, Dr. Thomas Enders and Gerhard Schindler. June 2021 marked an amazing success – the sale of a majority of Oceans Apart to Altor, a masterpiece founded and orchestrated by my friend and partner Norbert Neef.
In 2021 Argo Ventures was accepted by the Investment Bank of Berlin, IBB, to join their exclusive group of intermediary investors supporting Start-Up companies in Berlin to get through the challenges of the pandemic.
Additionally, I am heavily involved in various roles at the YPO Organization, the largest entrepreneurial organization in the world with more than 28,000 CEOs and Company Leaders as members, whose Berlin chapter I co-founded in 2010.
Q4 of 2019 marks a milestone in my entrepreneurial history. 5 years after I initiated The Argonauts Community, with the support of Loes and Sascha Grumbach as co-founders, we decided to open the platform outside the initial tight-knit group of personal friends. The community and its services were offered to a worldwide audience. From 19 initial founding members, it went to over 3.000 in mid-2021, within just 24 months.
Formed with the intention to create a global community supporting the creation of a new leadership mindset, „The Argonauts“ unites conscious leaders worldwide. The community encompasses business, social activities, and the arts. It is driven by the vision to nurture a global shift from the transactional, scarcity-based mindset to a transformational, abundance-of-life driven paradigm. It has attracted members from 70+ nations and is growing exponentially. Its vision is to become the leading global ecosystem for conscious leadership.
The Argonauts mark the pinnacle of who I am and what I stand for.
Founding of the Argo Venture Studio
Work on Argo Advisory as venture advisory and transformation consultancy, and Argo Capital for structured financial solutions
Changes in Greenlight Media from sale of shares to rebuying in 2020
New assembly of two Family Office Portfolios with a value of US$150m
June 2021 exit of Oceans Apart and Monarch goes life
2021- Intermediary Investor for the Investment Bank of Berlin
Co-founder of YPO Berlin
Chairman YPO Berlin Gold
Opening up „The Argonauts“ to people outside the circle of founding members with currently 3.000+ members from 75+ nations and growing exponentially
Becoming the leading global ecosystem for conscious leadership
The Argonauts mark the pinnacle of who I am and what I stand for