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SAP Co-Founder Dies at 74

  • Aaron Ricadela and Rob Lafranco
  • April 01 2015, 10:26am EDT

(Bloomberg) -- Klaus Tschira, who with four former IBM colleagues co-founded Germany’s SAP SE and helped turn it into one of the world’s most influential software companies, has died. He was 74.

He died on Tuesday, the Walldorf-based company said in an e-mail. No additional details were provided.

Tschira and the band of International Business Machines Corp. colleagues left to start SAP in 1972. Over the next three decades, he helped build it into one of a new guard of tech companies that unseated mainframe computers as the industry’s dominant force. SAP, along with Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp., used powerful software running on affordable computer hardware to organize and speed up business at lower costs than were previously attainable.

“He was a good person, passionate about the products that he had developed and promoted,” Leo Apotheker, a former chief executive of SAP, said in an e-mail. “He was equally passionate about science and engineering, to which he devoted a lot of time and resources once he had retired.”

Tschira was a management-board member from 1988 to 1998 and was on its supervisory board from 1998 to 2007.

His net worth of $7 billion ranked him as the 196th-richest person in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Rising Fortunes

SAP’s business-planning software became so ingrained in the customers’ operations that they often designed processes around it, escalating the German company’s fortunes and making billionaires of four of its founders. Chairman Hasso Plattner, Dietmar Hopp, Hans-Werner Hector and Claus Wellenreuther were the other co-founders.

Through the tech boom of the 1990s, a slump in the early 2000s, and a reinvention several years ago, SAP rose to become the biggest maker of software that manages companies’ finances and production. It survived an onslaught by Oracle and the U.S. company’s co-founder Larry Ellison, who entered SAP’s market and tussled with its managers at every turn.

“Klaus was always an energetic optimist and essentially put his stamp on the ‘startup’ SAP,” Plattner said in an e-mail. “All the work of building SAP was a great time together with him.”

Tschira was born on Dec. 7, 1940, in Freiburg im Breisgau in southern Germany, according to online database Munzinger.

Physics Background

He attended high school at Helmholtz-Gymnasium in Karlsruhe and completed a physics degree at a technical university in the same city in 1966. He joined IBM the same year and worked as a systems adviser in Mannheim.

During his tenure at SAP, Tschira worked on human-resources software, according to Apotheker. Tschira developed the first three versions of SAP’s ABAP programming language, Plattner said.

Tschira helped guide the company to a 1988 initial public offering, and today its market value is 83.1 billion euros ($87 billion).

He formed the Klaus Tschira Stiftung, a charity supporting technical education, in 1995. After undergoing heart surgery in 2007, Tschira stepped down from SAP’s supervisory board.

Tschira was married and had two children, according to Munzinger. He was an amateur astronomer and in 2000 an asteroid was named after him.

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