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Axios in Wonderland

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP
Dylan Byers
August 10, 2022

Back in early July 2021, Axios C.E.O. Jim VandeHei was in his home state of Wisconsin when he received an interesting inbound call. It came from Mathias Döpfner, the erudite and elegant C.E.O. of Axel Springer, the German media giant. During the past decade, Döpfner has greatly expanded both his firm’s footprint and its influence in the U.S. In 2015, Axel acquired Henry Blodget’s Business Insider for $450 million. Years later, Business Insider would buy a minority stake in Morning Brew for $75 million. Meanwhile, Axel entered into an investor agreement with KKR upon which Henry Kravis’s private equity colossus became the company’s majority shareholder for $3.2 billion. Döpfner was appointed to the Netflix board of directors in 2018.

On this July day, Döpfner was in Sun Valley attending the annual Allen & Company conference along with Kravis, among others. He told VandeHei that the two men wanted to meet with him immediately, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation. Döpfner sent a private plane to ferry him from Wisconsin to the conference early on the morning of July 8. Once there, Döpfner and Kravis outlined a plan in which Axel would buy both Politico and Axios, with VandeHei running the combined enterprise. (His Axios co-founders, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, would also assume leadership positions in the new business combination.) VandeHei said he was intrigued, if somewhat skeptical, about the idea and would bring it back to the board for review and discussion.