Adolf Merckle

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Adolf Merckle
Born(1934-03-18)18 March 1934
Dresden, Germany
Died5 January 2009(2009-01-05) (aged 74)
ChildrenLudwig Merckle

Adolf Merckle (18 March 1934 – 5 January 2009) was an entrepreneur and one of the richest people in Germany.[1]

Early life[edit]

Merckle was born in Dresden, into a wealthy family.


He developed his Bohemian grandfather's chemical wholesale company into Germany's largest pharmaceutical wholesaler, Phoenix Pharmahandel. In the early 1970s he founded Germany's first generic drug manufacturer, Ratiopharm.[2] For several decades he also held large parts of cement company HeidelbergCement as well as vehicle manufacturer Kässbohrer.

He was educated as a lawyer, but spent most of his time investing in and developing his companies. He lived in Blaubeuren with his wife and four children. (three sons and one daughter).

In 2007, he was worth US$12.8 billion by most estimates (Forbes),[3] and by May 2008 he was worth $9.2 billion,[4] a loss of $3.6 billion. In 2006, he was the world's 36th richest man,[1] dropping to 94th place by December 2008, but still one of Germany's five richest men.

At the end of 2008 Merckle’s investment company, VEM Vermögensverwaltung, faced a liquidity shortage. VEM said in a public statement that it had shored up the equity capital of HeidelbergCement to support the acquisition of British cement maker Hanson using loans backed by shares as collateral. Since the market value of the shares slumped more than 75% in the financial crisis, banks demanded further securities and early redemption on their loans. Merckle made personal guarantees to the banks, also from his private assets.[5] By negotiating with the banks he received a bridge loan to keep VEM afloat. In return he had to agree to sell Ratiopharm and his stake in HeidelbergCement to pay down debt.[6]

Also in 2008 Merckle had made a speculative investment based on his belief that Volkswagen shares would fall; however, in October 2008, Porsche SE's support of Volkswagen sent shares on the Xetra dax from 210.85 to over €1000 in less than two days (a short squeeze), resulting in losses of a low three-digit million in euros.[5] When the liquidity shortage of VEM became public, the media came up with speculations that this was caused by the losses from options on Volkswagen stock. Later it turned out that this was not the case. Neither the amount nor the companies involved were related to the banking negotiations and the following restructuring.[7]


Adolf Merckle committed suicide on 5 January 2009 by throwing himself in front of a train near his hometown.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b "#36 Adolf Merckle". 2006-03-09. Retrieved 2016-01-16.
  2. ^ Geschichte: Meilensteine der Historie Archived 2013-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, (in German)
  3. ^ "#44 Adolf Merckle -". 2007-08-03. Retrieved 2016-01-16.
  4. ^ "#94 Adolf Merckle -". 2008-05-03. Retrieved 2016-01-16.
  5. ^ a b "Billionaire family pressed after short-selling VW shares wins reprieve from banks", The New York Times, 20 October 2008.
  6. ^ "Merckle family empire gets bridge loan", Cemnet, 8 January 2009.
  7. ^ a b Gordon Rayner, Gordon, "Adolf Merckle: what made this German billionaire commit suicide?", The Daily Telegraph, 9 January 2009.
  8. ^ Reuters, [1], Welt, 6 January 2009.