The man who has been the heart and soul of BMW for more than a decade is also one of the unluckiest men in the auto industry.
Wolfgang Reitzle has yet to celebrate his 50th birthday, but he has been a fixture in the German auto industry almost as long as Volkswagen's Ferdinand Piech. They called him a boy genius, a wizard, a conjurer of classic cars.
With his Errol Flynn mustache and Italian suits, he was a dashing, charismatic figure. But Reitzle was always genuine, in his work and in his dealings with others. His potential seemed limitless.
He joined BMW in 1976 and was there through its transformation from a wobbly Mercedes pretender to the world's purest automotive brand. Reitzle had much to do with the change. But he never got the big payoff - the top job at BMW.
Reitzle made his first impression outside BMW in the autumn of 1986. As the company's 37-year-old engineering chief, he was the main presenter of the new 7 series to the world's media. He spoke with such boyish excitement that he almost overshadowed the car.
But Reitzle's 7 series of 1986 was a landmark. It was immediately crowned the 'world's greatest sedan.' The 7 series was so superior to the Mercedes S class that debuted a couple of years later that Mercedes-Benz AG was forced to rethink its entire philosophy - a self-examination that ultimately led to DaimlerChrysler.
Reitzle not only created the physical layout of BMW's FIZ product development center, but imbued it with its own culture. The FIZ became the industry standard and the model for the engineering temples later erected by Renault and Chrysler. It seemed inevitable that Reitzle eventually would replace Eberhard von Kuenheim as BMW's chief executive.
But in 1993, Reitzle flirted with an extraordinary offer to run Porsche AG. He would have carte blanche to rebuild the devastated little company from the ground up.
Reitzle was headed for Zuffenhausen, when von Kuenheim called him back and made him honor his BMW contract.
No Porsche dream job and no top job at BMW, either. The prodigal son was punished and passed over.
In 1993 an obscure manufacturing executive named Bernd Pischetsrieder replaced von Kuenheim as chairman of the management board.
But Reitzle was irrepressible, and too talented to be hidden away. He became a de facto second-in-command, one of BMW's twin pillars.
With Pischetsrieder under fire for buying Rover and then failing to turn it around fast enough, Reitzle had another chance to become chief executive.
He had been right about Rover from the start. It was a much harder turnaround job than anyone imagined.
But this time, worker representatives on the BMW supervisory board stood in the way. And the press-shy Quandt family that controls BMW appeared not to want him either. The situation was reminiscent of Lee Iacocca at Ford in the 1970s, when Iacocca's fame simply got under the Ford family's skin.
Like another former BMW executive, Bob Lutz, Reitzle was born to be the boss of a major auto company. And like Lutz, he may never achieve it.