The German economy is the fifth biggest in the world with a total GDP of $3.2 trillion, or $39,028 per capita, as of 2014. Germany is often considered the economic engine of the EU and one of the critical contributors to the region. So of course, some of the richest people in the world hail from this prosperous country.
Although the country at large does benefit from the wealth, Germany has been cited as suffering from 'the most unequal wealth distribution in the Eurozone' according to data reported by Reuters in 2014. Indeed, the fifteenth richest German has a net value that is 130,675 times greater than the per capita income of the country.
Most of the Germans at the top of the list made their fortunes through smart maintenance of inheritances while some others are self-made billionaires who started a company from scratch before diversifying into other opportunities. Fortunes are made in manufacturing, cars, retail sales, grocery sales, real estate holdings, online sales, software and other types of businesses. Noticeable brands on this list include BMW, SAP software, Trader Joe's, Aldi and Kaufland.
Thankfully, considering the obscene amount of wealth concentrated on this list, many of these billionaires choose to perform philanthropic work in addition to living the most luxurious of lifestyles. They spend considerable amounts of money investing in advancing education, promoting the arts and protecting environmental concerns as well as helping children and working on cures for diseases.
15 Ludwig Merckle – $5.1 billion
When his father, Adolf Merckle, committed suicide due to the ramifications of the 2008 financial crisis, Ludwig took the reigns of the business empire and performed a turnaround that saved the Merckle fortune.
Through a series of deft maneuvers, he restructured HeidelbergCement, sold Ratiopharm to Teva Pharmaceuticals, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Merckle Group against Porsche and secured funding to prop up the Phoenix Group. He credits a large part of his motivation to saving his father's achievements.
14 Dietmar Hopp – $6.4 billion
As co-founder and decade-long CEO of SAP software, Dietmar Hopp is a self-made billionaire. Last year his stock in SAP alone netted him $500 million. In addition to software, he has investments in a variety of biotech and life sciences businesses, most notably AC Immune, which is fighting against Alzheimer's disease. His other holdings include Domaine de Terre Blanche, which is a gated community and luxury golf course located in Provence, France.
13 Heinz Hermann Thiele – $6.6 billion
Heinz Hermann Thiele earned his considerable fortune by starting out in the legal department of Knorr-Bremse AG, which is a manufacturer that specializes in brakes. When the Knorr family sought to sell their stake in the company, Thiele won control with the assistance of funding from the Deutsche Bank. He also owns a 25% stake in German railroad manufacturer Vossloh. As an award-winning philanthropist, Thiele fights against childhood cancer and provides aid to developing countries.
12 Klaus Tschira – $6.8 billion
Another co-founder of SAP, Klaus Tschira is a self-made billionaire who focused his energy growing the software giant before retiring from business and advisory work in 2007. He formed the Klaus Tschira Foundation as a limited liability company, which is now one of the biggest philanthropy organizations in Germany, controlling over $2.7 billion in funds in an effort to “create more benefit for society by directing the money than if I left it to the state through taxation.”
11 August Von Finck – $7.9 billion
A reclusive billionaire who made his money by flipping businesses founded by his grandfather into a portfolio of real estate and industrial companies, relatively little is known about August Von Finck. He's married with four children, lives in Switzerland and owns 15% of Societe Generale de Surveillance, the world's largest organization for certification, testing and verification.
10 Hasso Plattner - $7.9 billion
The wealthiest co-founder of the five who created SAP software, Hasso Plattner also created the Hasso Plattner Institute at the University of Potsdam, which teaches IT Systems Engineering. He credits his success with the education he received at the University of Karlsruhe and has signed “The Giving Pledge”, which compels him to donate half his fortune to philanthropic purposes. He also owns Founcourt Estate, a luxury hotel and golf course on the Western Cape of South Africa.
9 Reinhold Würth - $8.1 billion
Having assembled his fortune by turning his father's screw business into a global fastening empire, Reinhold Würth formed the Würth Group, which operates a boutique hotel group that employs over 63,000 people. His latest activities revolve around his enthusiasm for aviation and art. He owns and pilots five jets, a small airport and over 16,000 pieces of art in a collection that includes Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso and Max Beckmann.
8 Klaus-Michael Kuehne - $10.3 billion
Klaus-Michael Kuehne made his fortune by steering Kuehne & Nagel, a logistics and transportation company started by his grandfather. He also founded the Hamburg School of Logistics, funded the football club Hamburg SV and has entered into a partnership the city of Hamburg and the University of Hamburg. Recent projects include the transformation of a 600-year-old Castell Son Claret into a hotel and The Fontenay – a $175 million hotel in place of the failed InterContinental in Hamburg.
7 Johanna Quandt - $12.7 billion
Secretary and eventually the third wife of Herbert Quandt, Johanna Quandt is a 16% owner of BMW, which recently enjoyed a record setting year in terms of volume. She was recognized in 2010 by her government for the social and cultural efforts that she has made to foster journalism and education within her country.
6 Georg Schaeffler - $13.8 billion
Along with his mother Maria-Elisabeth, Georg Schaeffler made a series of deft moves to vastly increase his fortune by acquiring Continental AG during the 2008 financial crisis, taking huge risks in the form of debt to finance the takeover. Since then, the vehicular market has rebounded and their shares in the company have rebounded in a big way. The Schaeffler Group, a 36% owner after the take over, now has a $16 billion stake with Continental AG. He earned his initial fortune through ball bearings.
5 Stefan Quandt - $14.7 billion
Another BMW inheritor, Stefan Quandt, recently made $3 billion due to a 19% jump in the stock of the automotive company. He's also involved with Delton AG, which produces roughly $2 billion in sales through a variety of consumer products. Suspicions were raised in October of 2013 when the family donated nearly a million dollars to the leading party of the German government before a key decision was reached about vehicle emissions that would potentially affect BMW.
4 Susanne Klatten - $16 billion
The richest woman in Germany is Susanne Klatten, who also owns a significant share of BMW. A highly skilled economist, she also runs Nordex AG, Altana, Geohumus and SGL, which produces graphite and carbon. Her net worth has increased by $3.1 compared to the previous year. Roughly 50% of BMW is owned by Susanne Klatten and her family members.
3 Dieter Schwarz - $16.7 billion
As one of the most secretive and private persons on this list, Dieter Schwarz makes his money through the Schwarz Group, which was created by his father. This group owns Kaufland and Lidl, pulling in a revenue of $91 billion. His ownership of the Schwartz Group was transferred to the Schwarz Foundation. Dividends are used to fund charitable efforts, such as daycare and education for children.
2 Michael Otto - $16.9 billion
As the owner of the second biggest internet retailer in the world, numerous prime real estate sites in San Francisco, New York and Washington, Crate and Barrel, along with numerous other holdings, Michael Otto is the second richest German. Him and his family also own 8,300 apartments in the city of Toronto, as well as 1.5 million square feet of industrial zones in and around the city. The ECE Group, which represents half of their fortune, builds, develops and manages malls, office headquarters and other types of real estate.
1 Theo Albrecht Jr. & family – $17.3 billion
With the recent passing of father Theo and brother Berthold, Theo Albrect Jr became the patriarch of the richest German family. Their fortune was developed through Aldi Nord and Trader Joe's, supermarkets that have over 5,300 locations in the United States and Europe. After a kidnapping that resulted in a ransom situation, a family foundation was created to ensure that ownership stayed with the family.