Johanna Quandt, the billionaire widow whose husband turned Germany’s BMW AG into the largest maker of luxury cars, has died. She was 89.
She died on Monday at her home in Bad Homburg, Germany, according to a statement from the Johanna Quandt Foundation. No cause was given.
The third wife and onetime secretary of Herbert Quandt, Johanna Quandt inherited a 16.7 percent stake in Munich-based BMW when her husband died in 1982. She also owned a stake in Datacard Group, a closely held Minnetonka, Minnesota-based credit-card and passport maker, and held shares in Gemalto, a publicly traded security-software designer based in Amsterdam.
BMW, which competes with Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen AG’s Audi in the premium-vehicle market, had sales of 80.4 billion euros in 2014. Its brands include BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce.
Johanna Quandt and her two children control a combined 46.8 percent of the company.
Quandt's death will not affect the family's stake or control in the automaker, a spokesman said.
"The stake will remain within the family," spokesman Joerg Appelhans said.
Johanna Quandt’s net worth of $11.5 billion ranked 98th in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and eighth within Germany. BMW has a market value of 59.9 billion euros ($65.3 billion).
“As an entrepreneur, you fulfilled the tasks that fell to you after the death of Herbert Quandt, in an unspectacular and even Prussian-like conscientious way,” her son, Stefan, said in a speech for her 80th birthday in 2006.
Johanna Quandt, who rarely spoke to the media while supporting journalists through her foundation, remained on the company’s supervisory board until she stepped down in 1997.
“I appeal to the people in my company, and not to the general public,” she was cited as saying in the Frankenpost newspaper in April 2012.
In 2007, a television documentary aired about the family’s ties to the Nazi regime during World War II. Johanna Quandt’s father-in-law, Guenther Quandt, was contracted to make Mauser firearms and anti-aircraft missiles for the Third Reich’s war machine.
In response to the broadcast, the family commissioned a Bonn-based history professor, Joachim Scholtyseck, to examine the extent of the involvement. The study showed that forced laborers were used in Quandt factories during the war.
Johanna Bruhn was born on June 21, 1926, in Berlin. Her parents were art historians.
After attending school in Potsdam and Berlin, she began an apprenticeship in medical technology, but her training was interrupted by the war. She found her first job as a banker’s secretary in Cologne before joining Herbert Quandt’s office in Bad Homburg, a spa town near Frankfurt, in the mid-1950s.
At the time, he and his half-brother, Harald Quandt, had just inherited a portfolio of about 200 companies after their father, Guenther Quandt, died in 1954. The holdings included the battery producer Varta AG; arms producer Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken, which became Industrie-Werke Karlsruhe AG after the war; a stake in potash miner Wintershall AG; and shares in Daimler AG and BMW.
Within a few years, Johanna Bruhn became Herbert’s personal assistant, with an increasing influence over his business decisions. They married in 1960 and had two children: Susanne in 1962 and Stefan in 1966.
In 1959, against the advice of his bankers, Herbert Quandt was swayed by employees and some smaller stakeholders to boost his stake in the almost-bankrupt BMW to 50 percent in order to fend off a takeover attempt by Daimler.
He aimed to turn the company around with new models, such as the BMW 1500 “sporty sedan.” The rescue plan, implemented the year he married for a third time, saved the automaker from collapse.
In 1995, Johanna Quandt set up her own foundation, which supports young people training to become business journalists and awards a media prize each year. She also provided funding to help children with cancer, and financed cultural groups that staged art exhibitions.
In 2012, she committed as much as 40 million euros over a 10-year period to a Berlin-based institute for health-care research.
“Johanna Quandt represents patronage in an exemplary way, without which a lot would no longer be possible,” Roland Koch, the premier of the German state of Hesse, said when she was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in August 2009.
Johanna Quandt resided in Bad Homburg, where her foundation and her children’s private investment vehicles, are based.