Johanna Quandt, head of the family that controls BMW, has died. She was 89.
Quandt died on Monday evening in her home in Bad Homburg near Frankfurt, Germany, a BMW spokesman said. No cause of death was given.
Johanna Quandt was the third wife and onetime secretary of industrialist Herbert Quandt who saved BMW from collapse after the Second World War. She inherited a 16.7 percent stake in BMW when her husband died in 1982.
Quandt and her two children held a combined 46.8 percent of BMW. Her death will not affect the family's shareholding, a BMW spokesman said. Her stake will be split between her two children, Stefan Quandt and Susanne Klatten. Stefan currently has a 17.4 percent stake and serves as BMW deputy chairman. Klatten holds 12.6 percent. Their holdings will increase to 25.75 percent and 20.95 percent, respectively.
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).
Johanna Quandt remained on the company’s supervisory board until she stepped down in 1997. “She followed the development of the company with great interest until the end,” her family said in a statement.
Born Johanna Bruhn in Berlin on June 21, 1926, her parents were art historians. She spent a year in Detroit in 1955 working as a household servant before returning to Germany. She was a banker’s secretary in Cologne before joining Herbert Quandt’s office in Bad Homburg. Within a few years, she became Herbert’s personal assistant with an increasing influence over his business decisions. They married in 1960.
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 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 saved the automaker from collapse.
The Quandt family was linked to Germany's Nazi regime. 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. He was arrested in 1946 by the Allied powers.
In response to a 2007 television documentary about the family’s ties to the Nazi regime the Quandt 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.
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 lived in Bad Homburg, where her foundation and her children’s private investment vehicles, are based.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report