Billionaire Metro co-founder Beisheim commits suicide

DUESSELDORF, Germany Mon Feb 18, 2013 2:20pm EST

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - German billionaire Otto Beisheim, one of the founders of retail group Metro (MEOG.DE), committed suicide after being diagnosed with an incurable illness.

Beisheim, 89, had lost hope after his diagnosis and was found dead at his home near the Tegernsee lake in Bavaria on Monday morning, his company said.

He had helped introduce to Germany in the 1960s the concept of "cash and carry", warehouse-type shops where trade customers such as hotels and restaurants go to buy products in bulk.

The Metro group, now the world's fourth-largest retailer, described him as a "pioneer".

"With his self-service cash-and-carry concept, he revolutionized the sector in the mid 1960s," Metro Chief Executive Olaf Koch said in a statement.

The group's operations include the Kaufhof department stores familiar to German cities, supermarkets, consumer electronics stores and cash and carries in Moldova and Japan. It had turnover of 66.7 billion euros ($89 billion) in 2012, almost half of which came from the cash and carry division.

Last year was a tough one for the group, which issued a profit warning, lost its place in the Dax index of leading German shares and received downgrades to its credit ratings.

Declining spending by shoppers in Europe worried about the euro zone debt crisis and the rise of internet retailers have also contributed to its shares losing 15 percent of their value over the past year.

A spokeswoman for the Beisheim Group said there were no plans to sell the billionaire's near-10 percent stake in Metro. He was the third-largest shareholder behind the Haniel and Schmidt-Ruthenbeck families, which together own 45.78 percent.

Beisheim's net worth was estimated at $3.3 billion by Forbes in March 2012, making him Germany's 22nd richest person.

He supported the Otto Beisheim School of Management, which took his name after a major donation, and was behind the redevelopment of the Beisheim Center on Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, an office and shopping complex that houses the five-star Ritz Carlton and Marriott hotels.

A widower with no children, Beisheim's assets will be divided between two foundations to foster cultural and business projects.

However, his image has been clouded by his role in the Second World War. German media reports have said that he was a member of Hitler's Waffen-SS. The spokeswoman for the Beisheim Group said only that he was a low-ranking member and switched to a different division in 1942. ($1 = 0.7490 euros)

(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous word from first para)

(Reporting by Matthias Inverardi; Writing by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and David Goodman)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (1)
paintcan wrote:
Did Herr Beisheim really loose hope or did he simply not believe there was any point to trying to prolong his life by every means available to him? I suspect, that with his wealth he could have extended his years.

The man was brave enough to put a stop to it and relinquish his possessions. He was a very old man. He may have felt that any more efforts were pointless?

Maybe the article should be saying BRAVO, Herr Beisheim?

The only thing that bothers me about his action is; there would be too much pressure on those without means to do the same thing if what he did became something everyone approved and worse, became a matter of governmental or medical policy. Is there a good argument that he may have robbed the medical system of Germany of a good paying customer and subsidizer of others?

Maybe that was the lesson of the Third Reich he was exposed to in his youth? Those people made a religion of the German state and the German people but they also went mad. .

Feb 25, 2013 10:53am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.