Helmut Panke, erstwhile nuclear physicist, always has been where the action is.
He was BMW's top man in North America when the company opened its assembly plant in Spartanburg, S.C., in the early 1990s. And it was Panke, while CFO a few years later, who disentangled BMW from Rover, the English millstone that nearly brought down the mighty company.
Rid of Rover, BMW was quickly back on track -- proud and even more profitable than before. As CEO since 2002, Panke has kept the Munich machine humming.
On Sept. 1, a day after reaching the company's mandatory retirement age of 60, Panke will be replaced by Norbert Reithofer.
Indeed, it seems early to put Helmut Panke out to pasture. He is one of the heroes of the modern BMW.