Bringing BMW to the top
Eberhard von Kuenheim became managing director of Bayerische Moteren Werke AG (Bavarian Motor Works) in 1970 at the age of 41, and guided the company for 29 years – first as CEO until 1994 and later as Chairman of the Supervisory Board until 1999 – one of the longest runs in the history of the automobile industry. Under his leadership, von Kuenheim transformed BMW from a small, unfocused manufacturer of cars and motorcycles into a world performance luxury icon. Born in 1928 to Prussian nobility, von Kuenheim studied engineering in Stuttgart following World War II.
In 1965, he joined the Quandt Gruppe, BMW’s largest shareholder, and was named BMW chairman just five years later. Beginning in 1970, von Kuenheim quickly began to sharpen BMW’s image, focusing only on high quality, high performance products. von Kuenheim came into BMW when they were only selling 140,000 cars a year. His strategy was to grow the company but not to become a “mass producer” in the traditional sense. He also put a premium on innovation with suppliers. von Kuenheim formed solid relationships with his suppliers like Bosch, Siemens, and Zahnradfabrik which created a sense of loyalty between them.
During the 1970s, with von Kuenheim at the helm, BMW opened a new factory in Dingolfing, Germany, established BMW Motorsports, and debuted the 5 Series as the foundation for the company’s new performance reputation. Four years later, in 1975, von Kuenheim moved BMW into a higher volume segment with the introduction of the lower-priced 3 Series models. The 3 Series became the fastest selling BMW model in the company’s history. A year later, the 6 Series Coupe was added, and in 1977, the lineup was completed with the premium luxury 7 Series.
Under the leadership of Eberhard von Kuenheim, BMW grew from a company of 23,000 employees in 1970 to over 71,000 when he resigned as CEO in 1993. He continued to serve as Chairman of the BMW Supervisory Board until 1999. He now runs the Eberhard von Kuenheim Foundation, which promotes and develops outstanding executive and entrepreneurial thinking.