Knorr-Bremse and Lufthansa major shareholder Thiele dies

The 79-year-old self-made billionaire Heinz Hermann Thielew was one of the richest Germans. He made his employer Knorr-Bremse a global corporation.

The majority owner of the brake manufacturer Knorr-Bremse, Heinz Hermann Thiele, is dead. The 79-year-old died unexpectedly on Tuesday in Munich, the company announced on Tuesday evening. The self-made billionaire, one of the richest Germans, also held a double-digit stake in the largest German airline and AUA parent Lufthansa. Thiele had his employer in 1985 Knorr-Brake bought and expanded as CEO to a billion dollar company.

In 2018 he brought the company to the stock exchange. Only last year Thiele returned to the supervisory board and acted as deputy chairman. “The board of directors and the supervisory board mourn the loss of a global and visionary entrepreneur who has shaped the global rail and commercial vehicle industry for decades,” said Knorr-Brake. “Heinz Hermann Thiele dedicated his whole life to the service of the company.”

Developed into the world market leader

The self-made billionaire who contributed Knorr-Bremse began as a patent clerk in 1969, took over his employer in 1985 during the crisis and expanded it from a medium-sized company to the world market leader for truck and train brakes. In 2018, Thiele brought the billion-dollar company to the stock exchange and, together with his daughter, still held 59 percent of the shares after selling shares for more than five billion euros. The “Manager Magazin” counted him and his family among the eight richest Germans last autumn, with assets of around 17 billion euros.

Only last summer, after a management crisis after four years, he was deputy chairman of the supervisory board Knorr-Brake returned. Until 2007, Thiele had led the company in the style of a patriarch and then still had a great influence on the business as chairman of the supervisory board and honorary chairman of the committee. The rescue of Lufthansa in the Corona crisis made Thiele a tremendous game in summer 2020 because, as a major shareholder, he refused to accept the conditions of partial nationalization until the last moment. Thiele only got into the Lufthansa bargain hunt during the crisis. With twelve percent of the shares he was most recently the second largest shareholder after the state. Thiele held the majority in the Vossloh rail technology group.

“Pioneeringly shaped over decades”

“The board of directors and the supervisory board mourn the loss of a global and visionary entrepreneur who has shaped the global rail and commercial vehicle industry for decades,” said Knorr-Brake. “Heinz Hermann Thiele dedicated his whole life to the service of the company.” CEOs had a hard time after him. Klaus Deller threw in the towel in 2019 shortly after the successful IPO, a good year later it was all over for Bernd Eulitz. At the turn of the year, the previous Siemens manager Jan Michael Mrosik took over the chief position.

Thiele never shied away from turbulence. The billionaire accepted that it could easily lead to an argument if he wanted to get his plans through. “He has a mind of his own,” said a former companion last year. Born in Mainz, he studied law in Munich and then began his career in the patent department of Knorr-Brake. When the shareholders of the traditional company fell out, Thiele gradually took over the shares. In 2019, the long-established Munich company with 29,000 employees and sales of 6.9 billion euros posted a profit of 632 million euros.

Thiele has always been at odds with the unions. The in-house collective agreement provides for seven hours of extra work per week compared to the area tariff. The conditions in his company are tough for the workers, said an expert. Thanks to his success as an entrepreneur, layoffs are rare.

(APA / Reuters)

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