The Good Oil: The luxury carmaker that’s still a family affair
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When you think of a family business, it might be the corner dairy, a local builder or a farm. But you might also think of one of the world’s top luxury-car brands.
Massive corporations with complex ownership structures are the norm in the automotive business. But BMW is still largely controlled by a brother and sister: Stefan Quandt and Susanne Klatten own 29 and 21 per cent of the company respectively.
Stefan and Susanne are the children of Herbert Quandt (above), the man credited with saving BMW from oblivion in the 1960s. The Quandt family owned a 30 per cent stake in BMW in 1959, when it was in dire straits and almost sold to rival Daimler-Benz.
Herbert and brother Harald stepped in, increasing their BMW shareholding to 50 per cent and taking a huge risk with some key new models.
In 1962 came the 1500 “New Class”, a compact luxury car with sporting character (pictured top). It created a whole new genre that has since been copied by every other luxury carmaker. That model line became known it as the 3-Series.
The Quandt family is still one of the richest in Germany, but it hasn’t been an entirely smooth run into the 21st century. In 2007 an award-winning documentary titled The Silence of the Quandts revealed the role of Gunther Quandt (father of Herbert and Harald) in Nazi Germany: he was a member of the Party and as a Wehrwirtschaftsfuhrer played a leading role in the war economy.
The family subsequently commissioned a 1200-page report examining its role in wartime Germany in further depth, which was released in 2011 (BMW was not implicated).
Susanne Klatten has suffered an attempted kidnap (1978) and a blackmail scandal following an extramarital affair in 2007.
But she also suffered a teeny bit of tone deafness during a 2019 interview with Manager Magazin, in which she spoke about the burden that comes as being a “guardian of wealth”. In the same interview, Stefan highlighted how hard it was to be appointed to the BMW board at age 30, prompting “constant questioning, associated with self-doubt”.
It’s apparently not easy being worth in excess of NZ$25 billion with access to all the BMWs you can eat.