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Heinz Hermann Thiele, Billionaire German Tycoon, Dies at 79

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Devon Pendleton and Ben Stupples
·2 min read
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(Bloomberg) -- Heinz Hermann Thiele, a German investor and industrialist and one of the country’s richest men, has died. He was 79.

Thiele died unexpectedly in Munich, according to a statement issued Tuesday by Knorr-Bremse AG, the brake-system manufacturer of which he was deputy chairman and majority shareholder. The company didn’t provide a cause of death or name his replacement.

A native of Mainz, Thiele amassed a manufacturing empire that included a 59% stake in Knorr-Bremse and half of railroad-equipment maker Vossloh AG. His $20.2 billion fortune made him the fourth-richest person in Germany and the 97th-wealthiest in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The tycoon had recently taken center stage as an activist investor in a drama gripping Deutsche Lufthansa AG. In June, he built a significant stake in the beleaguered airline and expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s rescue plan.

It wasn’t immediately clear what Thiele’s death will mean for Lufthansa. His family hasn’t publicly commented on what it plans to do with his 12.4% stake in the carrier.

A spokesperson for Lufthansa wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Thiele’s investment in the airline led to a burst of activism in the run-up to its June 2020 AGM. He ultimately supported the bailout that led the German government to become its largest shareholder.

His last public intervention came in November 2020, when he called on the government to broker pay-cut talks with the airline’s unions. The government didn’t join the discussions with labor representatives.

Knorr-Bremse

Thiele started at Knorr-Bremse in 1969 as a legal specialist in the patents department, and rose through the ranks before buying the company in 1985. At that point, he hadn’t even repaid the mortgage on his house, he said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

He and his family pocketed about 3 billion euros ($3.6 billion) from the initial public offering of Knorr-Bremse in 2018. Thiele said at the time he planned to hand over the company to his daughter and that estate planning factored into his decision to list it. More recently, he appeared to be building a war chest to fund private investments and last year sold about $2 billion of the brake-maker’s shares.

He controlled his holdings in both firms through his family office, Stella, which hired Linde Group’s former head of pension investments, Christoph Schlegel, around the start of last year as its chief investment officer.

(Updates with Lufthansa investment details from fourth paragraph)

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