Every executive throws around Internet buzzwords these days. But Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Middelhoff, 47, was the first chief of a major German company to see the Net's potential. His AOL Europe venture with America Online Inc. turned Bertelsmann into one of Europe's first Net players. And his investments in startups such as Berlin-based multimedia agency Pixelpark played a vital role in Germany's venture-capital boom.
Middelhoff must redesign his Net strategy, now that the AOL's merger with Time Warner Inc. has forced him to sell his stake in AOL Europe back to AOL. But already, Germany's Netizens owe him an enormous debt.