Berthold Beitz, who has died aged 99, was almost 40 before he joined Germany's fabled steel company but, for the rest of his life, he was known to all as the "Last Krupp". Other titles included "Lord of the Rings", an allusion to the famous firm logo, and the "German Oskar Schindler" for saving hundreds of Polish Jews from perishing in the Holocaust.
A chance meeting with Alfried Krupp in 1952 changed the course of both men's lives. The steel heir, whose parents courted Adolf Hitler, was hunting for someone to rebuild the postwar remnants of the family company that had armed the Nazi war effort.
Impressed by Beitz, he hired him to head the company. When Krupp died in 1967, he named Beitz executor of his estate, steering the new foundation created to manage the Krupp firm, family fortune and fund philanthropic projects.
As chairman, Beitz managed the company through decades of boom and near-bust, retaining influence long after he departed the boardroom in 1989. Until his death this week, two months short of his 100th birthday, he went to work daily. Its quarter share of the ThyssenKrupp concern, created from a 1999 merger with a former rival, is worth about €2 billion today.
Excused from military
Berthold Beitz was born in 1913 in the Pomeranian town of Zemmin, now in Poland. After following his father into banking he moved to the Hamburg office of Royal Dutch Shell in 1939. Excused from military service when war broke out, he ran a German-owned oil plant in Borislaw in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Throughout the war, he protected Jewish workers by insisting they were essential for oil production and, thus, the war effort. In 1945, he managed to rescue some 220 workers from deportation trains and hid dozens of Jewish children in the cellar of his family home. One of his workers later became the secretary of Oskar Schindler, who also saved the lives of hundreds of Jews in his employment.
Of the many awards he would receive in his long life, Beitz was most proud of the “Righteous Among Nations” recognition from Israel’s Yad Vashem.
At Krupp from 1952, Mr Beitz ensured his new employer was one of the first to pay compensation for the use of forced wartime labour. In the postwar years he became Germany's most powerful magnate. Though he didn't support a political party, close business contacts behind the Iron Curtain made him a backer of Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik and raised the hackles of Germany's conservative establishment.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany had lost "one of its most esteemed and successful figures" and praised his "brave and exemplary support for Jewish workers during World War II". German president Joachim Gauck praised him as a symbol for "socially responsible company management and strength of character".
Last year, Beitz said his wartime efforts and later career were inspired by Pericles, a statesman in Ancient Greece.
“The secret of happiness is inner freedom,” he said, citing Pericles, “and the secret of inner freedom is courage.”
With his wife Else he had three daughters.