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Who is Herbert Quandt and were the owners of BMW Nazis?

Herbert Werner Quandt (22 June 1910 – 2 June 1982), was a German industrialist who was considered the saviour of BMW, and the most important person in BMW’s history when it was bankrupt, making a great fortune in the process. But it was not easy for Herbert to become one of his country’s richest industrialists.

Herbert Quandt was born in Pritzwalk, as the second son of industrialist Günther Quandt (1881-1954), the descendant of a Dutch rope-making family that had settled in Wittstock and Pritzwalk, between Berlin and Schwerin, in the 18th century. Günther’s father, Emil Quandt, married the daughter of a wealthy textile manufacturer and took over the company in 1883. During World War I, with Günther in charge, the Quandts supplied uniforms to the German army, amassing a fortune that Günther would spend after the war to acquire Accumulatorenfabrik AG (AFA), a battery manufacturer in Hagen, a potash mine and metal manufacturers including IWKA in 1928.

Herbert was afflicted with a scarring retinal disease and was almost blind from the age of nine, so he had to be educated at home. After extensive training in the family companies, Herbert Quandt became a member of the board of directors of AFA, later VARTA AG. Herbert was the director of Pertrix GmbH, a Berlin-based subsidiary of AFA. Herbert Quandt was not tried after the war, although his father was interned until 1948 while under investigation.

His work at BMW


Gradually Herbert gained greater responsibility for the companies his father had acquired and after 1945, he modernised them, developing a business philosophy of decentralised organisation that gave executives broad decision-making powers and allowed employees to participate in the success of their company.

 

BMW 700, Quandt’s personal project that saved BMW’s reputation.

 

When Günther died in 1954, the Quandt Group was a conglomerate of approximately 200 companies, including the battery manufacturer, several metal manufacturing companies, textile companies and chemical companies (including Altana AG). It also owned about 10 per cent of the Daimler-Benz car company and about 30 per cent of BMW. After Günther’s death, the conglomerate was divided between his two surviving sons: Herbert and Harald Quandt, who was Herbert’s half-brother.

 

BMW was a company in crisis and in 1959 its management suggested selling the company to Daimler-Benz. Herbert Quandt came close to agreeing to such a deal, but changed his mind at the last moment due to opposition from workers and trade unions, increasing his stake in BMW to 50% against the advice of his bankers, risking much of his wealth.

 

BMW was already planning its BMW 1500 model when Quandt took over. It was launched in 1962 and established a new segment in the automobile market: the quality production sedan, occupying a position between the mass-produced automobile and the handcrafted production of the luxury producers. BMW’s sophisticated technical skills put it in a strong position to fill this niche, and it was this model that set BMW on the road to success. Under his leadership, the successful BMW 700 was also developed, which saved the company for good.

When Harald died in 1967 in a plane crash, Herbert received further shares in BMW, VARTA and IWKA. In 1974, Herbert, and Harald’s widow Inge, sold their shares in Daimler-Benz to the Kuwaiti government.

After his death, his share in the company passed to his sons, and today his son Stefan is the company’s largest shareholder with 29% of the capital.

The Quandt family and Nazism


Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs’ documentary “The Silence of the Quandts” on German public broadcaster ARD in October 2007 described the role of the Quandt family’s businesses during World War II. The family’s Nazi past was not well known, but the documentary revealed that the family’s companies used slave labourers in factories during World War II. Following this, four family members announced, on behalf of the entire Quandt family, their intention to fund a research project in which a historian would examine the family’s activities during Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship. The 1,200-page independent study published in 2011 concluded: “The Quandts were inseparably linked to the crimes of the Nazis” – in the words of Joachim Scholtyseck, the Bonn historian who compiled and researched the study.

 

Harald Quandt, Herbert’s brother and business partner, pictured at the age of 10, right, at his mother’s second marriage to Joseph Goebbels, with Adolf Hitler at the ceremony in the background.

 

Extortion of Herbert Quandt’s daughter


In 2007, the Quandt family was in the press again for reasons quite different from their business activities. Susanne Klatten, Herbert’s daughter and Germany’s richest woman and the 38th richest person in the world, was blackmailed by Helg “Russak” Sgarbi, a Swiss citizen who threatened to disclose material showing that the two had had an affair.  Sgarbi was arrested in January 2009 and sentenced to six years in prison.