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German billionaire commits suicide because of credit crunch

SmartCompany /

European’s business world is in shock after German entrepreneur Adolf Merckle committed suicide by throwing himself under a train, apparently distraught with the massive debts racked up by his family company.

European’s business world is in shock after German entrepreneur Adolf Merckle committed suicide by throwing himself under a train, apparently distraught with the massive debts racked up by his family company.

Merckle was ranked as the 94th richest person in the world in May 2008 by Forbes magazine, with a fortune of $13 billion.

But his family holding company had debts of more than $9 billion and Merckle had been trying to arrange an emergency funding injection from a group of 30 banks.

“The dedicated family businessman was broken by his inability to handle the situation and he ended his own life,” his family said in a statement this morning.

“The distress at his companies caused by the financial crisis and the resultant uncertainty of the last few weeks contributed to his death.”

Merckle, a trained lawyer, took over his family’s small chemical company in 1967 at a time when it had 80 employees and about $5 million in sales. He expanded into the pharmaceutical, concrete, machinery and leisure industries.

Merckle’s companies now employ around 100,000 people, the largest chunk of which work for HeidelbergCement, where the Merckle family is the controlling shareholder.

While Merckle had avoided the public spotlight for most of his career, his family hit the headlines in late 2008 after his gamble on Volkswagen shares went spectacularly wrong.

It is believed Merckle lost a staggering $937.2 billion betting Volkswagen shares would fall, only to see the stock rise on speculation of a takeover.

Merckle left a suicide note but the contents of the document have not been released.

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