It's hard to imagine Helmut Panke sitting on his hands.
But in five weeks that's what he'll be doing. On Thursday, Aug. 31, Panke turns 60 and the next day, Friday, Sept. 1, he'll be out of a job. This is thanks to BMW's mandatory retirement age for CEOs.
As part of the deal, Panke can stay on the payroll until May when his contract expires, but he won't have anything official to do. So he'll have plenty of time to ponder his outplacement opportunities. And he seems eager to keep working, having publicly stated his willingness to stay on as BMW CEO.
I'm pretty sure he won't end up as a Wal-Mart greeter.
These days, many big-time auto execs jump into investment banking when they leave the day-to-day car business. Some, like Tom Stallkamp and Jacques Nasser, have done very well for themselves in the world of private equity capital.
Becoming an investment banker is the updated version of being a consultant, which for years has been a favorite second career for execs who've hit the silk, especially engineers. But as an investment banker, you're a consultant who also is a player with other people's money as well as your own.
Panke would make a dandy investment banker, having been BMW's CFO before being named CEO. And he's already been a consultant, having worked for McKinsey & Co. before joining BMW. So that's a possibility, too.
Still, it might not be easy to slide back into a consulting firm. Even though he uses Dr. in front of his name, Panke isn't an engineer, which is a handicap he overcame at BMW but could limit his appeal to consulting firm headhunters.
No, Dr. Panke is merely a lowly nuclear physicist, having had practical experience at the Swiss Institute for Nuclear Research for a couple of years at the start of his career.
Out of work
Unfortunately, the collapse of the old U.S.S.R. and the ensuing "peace dividend'' -- plus a couple of unfortunate incidents at nuclear reactors -- put a lot of physicists out of work.
But who knows what the job market for physicists will be next year, what with Pakistan, India, North Korea, Iran -- and one assumes Israel -- working on their nuclear programs? If he starts reading now, he might get caught up on the literature.
Of course, the best employment opportunity would be to do what he has been doing.
Panke is experienced and well qualified to run another auto company.
I wonder if there's an automaker out there in need of a CEO.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]