FRANKFURT - The young Quandt siblings who joined BMW's supervisory board in 1997 orchestrated the company's biggest management shakeup since their father saved the ailing car manufacturer 40 years ago.
Now, analysts wonder if the Quandts will take BMW in an entirely new direction, possibly even selling the company or entering into a broad alliance with another automaker.
Susanne Klatten, 36, and Stefan Quandt, 33, took matters into their own hands by ousting Man-agement Board Chairman Bernd Pischets-rieder and replacing him with Joachim Milberg, who had been in charge of production.
Pischetsrieder had been under fire because of losses at BMW's Rover Group. He championed the Rover acquisition five years ago and set the subsidiary on its flawed strategic course. But sources say the family members were also unhappy with BMW's model strategy and feared BMW would fall behind DaimlerChrysler AG.
Pischetsrieder's exit came seven hours into a supervisory board meeting on Feb. 5. Although it was called to discuss the Rover restructuring, the meeting turned into a battle for leadership of the company. Wolfgang Reitzle, Pischetsrieder's powerful second-in-command, quit 30 minutes later.
Reitzle, BMW's long-time product development boss, failed to garner support for the top job from worker representatives on the 24-member board.
Soon afterward the board named Milberg, 55, to replace Pischetsrieder.
3 ADDED TO BOARD
The supervisory board also named three new members to the management board:
Carl-Peter Forster, 44, head of BMW South Africa, was named head of engineering and production, replacing Milberg
Wolfgang Ziebart, 49, was named board member for technical development. Ziebart led development of the current 3 series
Henrich Heitmann, 57, chairman and CEO of BMW (US) Holding Corp., was elevated to the management board and given responsibility for sales and marketing.
The management changes mean a new direction for BMW, according to industry analysts. Some believe they signal an activist role for the young Quandts that ultimately could lead to selling out.
DaimlerChrysler Chairman Robert Eaton said he expected three or four bidders to emerge for BMW. But Eaton said his company would not be one of them.
The Quandts firmly deny plans to sell their stake. 'You have to believe them,' said Ford Motor Co. President Jac Nasser
Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt are children of the late Herbert Quandt, who took control of BMW in 1959 when he put up the money for its rescue. Together with their mother, Johanna Quandt, 71, Susanne and Stefan control 45.6 percent of BMW shares.
In 1997, the brother and sister replaced Johanna and family executor Hans Graf von der Goltz on the supervisory board.
The young Quandts may take a more active role than their mother.
'The interesting issue is that the Quandts nearly broke cover,' said Stephen Reitman, an analyst at Merrill Lynch in London. 'It's rare to see the Quandts exercising power this way.'
PICKED BY VON KUENHEIM
Milberg is understood to have been hand-picked by Eberhard von Kuenheim, BMW's supervisory board chairman.
Milberg joined BMW in 1993 as management board member for production, replacing Pischetsrieder. He spent the previous 12 years as a machine tools professor at Munich Technical University. In a board reshuffle a year ago, Milberg added board responsibility for product engineering.
At Munich Technical University, Milberg gained a world reputation as a production expert. He consulted for almost every automaker in the world and saw nearly every auto plant, say BMW sources.
With the latest 3 series, he is also credited with the 'smoothest production start in BMW's history,' said BMW spokesman Thomas Zauber.
Ziebart headed the Rover Group Turnaround Team, a group of specialists called into action last autumn to help BMW's troubled subsidiary in the United Kingdom.
Forster led development of the current 5 series from 1993 until the car's debut in 1996. Sources say Forster is so highly regarded that he may succeed Milberg in a few years.