Metro’s Billionaire Co-Founder Beisheim Commits Suicide

Otto Beisheim, the billionaire co-founder of Metro AG who imported the U.S. Cash & Carry concept to Germany in the 1960s, has died. He was 89.

Beisheim lost the will to live as he battled with an incurable illness, according to an e-mailed statement from the Beisheim Group today that implied he took his own life. His body was discovered at his home in the southern German town of Rottach-Egern, according to the statement.

His fortune is estimated at $4.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Beisheim held a 10 percent stake in Metro, Germany’s biggest retailer, which he co-founded in 1964 with the help of the Haniel and Schmidt-Ruthenbeck families. He also owned a namesake real-estate complex in the center of Berlin, which contains two five-star hotels. He managed his investments through Beisheim Holding Schweiz in Switzerland.

Beisheim retired from Dusseldorf-based Metro’s board in 1994 and, in 2009 and in 2010, reduced his stake from about 18.5 percent after abandoning a voting agreement with the families, who two years earlier had increased their holding to 50.1 percent.

“With Cash & Carry, he pushed the wholesale format, which was ideal for countries in central and eastern Europe after the end of communism because the retail landscape was so fragmented there,” Boris Planer, chief economist at Planet Retail in Frankfurt, said by phone. “Even today, Cash & Carry in emerging markets continues to be a very strong growth driver for Metro as a global group. It continues to be Metro’s biggest hope to this day.”

Gains Pared

Metro shares pared gains, closing up 0.5 percent at 24.32 euros in Frankfurt after rising as much as 2.6 percent earlier in the day.

The retailer, which posted revenue of 66.7 billion euros ($89 billion) last year, gets almost half of its sales from its Cash & Carry wholesale business and the rest from retail units including the Media-Saturn electronics chain, Kaufhof department stores and Real hypermarkets.

“Otto Beisheim was a pioneer and a legend in the German and international retail sectors,” Metro Chief Executive Officer Olaf Koch said in an e-mailed statement today. “He revolutionized the entire industry” with the Cash & Carry concept from the middle of the 1960s, he said.

Beisheim introduced the Cash & Carry concept in Germany, Alexa von Wietzlow, a spokeswoman for the Beisheim Group said by phone today. He opened the first Cash & Carry stores in Rottach-Egern and Muelheim an der Ruhr, Germany, she said.

Prisoner of War

Beisheim served in the First SS Division Leibstandarte during the Second World War -- a division that also operated as Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard unit. He was taken prisoner by the British in 1945. He didn’t have children and remarried in 2008 after becoming a widower, according to information compiled by Bloomberg. He lived in Baar, Switzerland, in the summer and resided in Miami in the winter.

Beisheim donated to educational causes through his namesake foundation. His largest was a 50 million deutsche mark donation to the Otto Beisheim School of Management, located in Vallendar, Germany. He was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1994.

Beisheim’s estate will go to the two foundations in his name in Baar and Munich, according to a statement from the Beisheim Group today.

His death was first reported by newspaper Bild Zeitung.

“With Otto Beisheim’s death, we are losing an important businessman and a particularly valuable man and our thoughts are with his family,” Franz Markus Haniel said in a statement. Beisheim “wrote a significant piece of economic history,” he said.

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