We live in an era of truly incredible inequality: the middle class versus the billionaire class. The 25 richest families in the world have a combined net worth of $1.1 trillion. The Quandt family is the 8th wealthiest family in the world, with a combined $42.7 billion net worth. The Quandt family fortune began when Herbert Quandt turned BMW from a struggling car company into one of the largest luxury car companies in the world. When Harold died in 1982, Herbert left his entire fortune, including the majority ownership stake in BMW, to his daughter Susanne, his son Stefan and their mother Johanna.The family matriarch Johanna Quandt died in 2015. Her children Stefan Quandt and Susanne Klatten retain control of BMW. This family has some wild history and stories.
Let's start with Herbert. His father Guenther Quandt turned a family textile business that he inherited from his father Emil into one of the largest clothing manufacturers in Germany. He made military uniforms. When World War I was over, Guenther had a lot of cash, so he bought a company that made batteries, one that made sewing machines, a silverware manufacturer, and a large stake in the car company Daimler. When Guenther died in 1954, the Quandt group was a conglomerate of about 200 businesses. The Quandt group owned 30% of BMW. After Guenther's death, the Quandt Group was divided between his sons Herbert and Harald.
Herbert Quandt was close to selling BMW to Daimler-Benz (a company the family also had a stake in), but he changed his mind at the last minute and increased his stake in the ailing company to 50%. BMW already had the BMW 1500 in planning stages when Quandt took over. It's 1962 launch created a new segment in the car market. This model put BMW on the path to success.
Herbert married his third wife Johanna in 1960. She had been a secretary at BMW in the 1950s and eventually his personal assistant. The couple had two children Stefan and Susanne. When Hebert died in 1982, his stake in BMW was divided between his wife and two children. Susanne and Stefan serve on the board of BMW today and are among the richest people in Germany.
Speaking of Susanne…she was born April 28, 1962. After she finished high school, Susanne went to Frankfurt to study business and economics. While she was already a very wealthy young woman, Susanne didn't go the pampered heiress route. She kept at her education, taking courses in marketing and management at the University of Buckingham, and then getting an MBA from the IMD business school in Lausanne, Switzerland with a specialization in advertising.
Most of Susanne's knowledge and business savvy comes from the positions she held in the years following her schooling. Instead of becoming a typical trust fund baby, Susanne worked at an agency for two years in the early 80s before going on to the University of Buckingham. She also held a number of hands-on internships in her family's business empire. In many cases of her employment, whether in a family owned company or not, she worked under the assumed name Susanne Kant so that she would not receive special treatment.
And so, it happened one day during the 1980s while Susanne "Kant" was working as a trainee at the BMW factory in Regensburg, Germany, that she met one of the company's engineers, Jan Klatten. The two instantly felt a connection and soon were going on dates. Jan had absolutely no idea Susanne Kant was anything other than a 20-something intern at BMW. He had absolutely no clue that she was an extremely wealthy heiress. Not only that, but as one of the three majority owners of BMW, technically speaking, Susanne was Jan's boss', boss', boss', boss', boss.
As the two got to know each other better and began dating exclusively, Susanne continued using a fake name because, in her own words: "I wanted to find out if he really loved me." Susanne and Jan married in 1990. She didn't reveal her true identity until after Jan proposed.
In 1993, Susanne joined the board of Altana, a pharmaceutical and chemicals manufacturer that she personally owns 50.1% of. She is credited with transforming the company into a world-class corporation with $2-4 billion in annual revenue today. In 2009, she bought up all the outstanding shares of Altana that she didn't already own.
Susanne Klatten leads a very private life. She is rarely interviewed and almost never seen in public. When she was 16 years old, she was nearly kidnapped and there is speculation that this event is directly responsible for her need to live an exceptionally private life. Consequently, not much is known of her personal life except that she, her husband, and three children live in Munich.