Germany is home to a significant number of well-known and successful entrepreneurs. Three of the top ones are Adolf Dassler, Hasso Plattner, and Klaus Tschira. Even if their names aren't familiar to you, the companies they founded probably are: Adidas and SAP (creator of SAP R/3 business application software).

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • One of Germany's most successful entrepreneurs was Adolf Dassler, founder of Adidas.
  • Two more of Germany's biggest and wealthiest entrepreneurs are Hasso Plattner and Klaus Tschira, co-founders of the software giant SAP.

1) Adolf Dassler

Adolf "Adi" Dassler (1900-1978) rose from being a shoemaker to the founder of sportswear giant Adidas.

Dassler was born in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria on Nov. 3, 1900. From a young age, Dassler was trained as a cobbler. After a short period in the army at the end of World War I, he returned home and began designing footwear in his mother's laundry room, developing the idea that different sports required different types of shoes. His father, Christoph Dassler, worked in a shoe factory where the Zehlein brothers produced handmade metal spikes for track shoes. Adolf was supported by his father and the Zehlein brothers when he began his own business. Adolf’s own older brother, Rudolf, joined the company, and in July 1924, it became known as the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory.

The foundation for the international expansion of the company was laid when Dassler provided shoes for many of the athletes at the 1928 Olympics. The 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin, provided another opportunity for Dassler after he equipped U.S. athlete Jesse Owens with a pair of his trademark shoes. Owens won four gold medals while wearing them, further promoting his business.

During Adolf Hitler's rise in the 1930s, both of the Dassler brothers joined the Nazi Party. When World War II broke out, Adolf remained with the shoe factory, producing boots for the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces—though he broke ties with the Nazis shortly thereafter. Rudolf, meanwhile, was drafted into the army. A rift formed between the brothers and continued after the war ended. In 1948, Rudolf left the brothers' company and founded his own business, known today as Puma. Adolf then renamed his company after his nickname "Adi" and the first letters of his surname, calling the company Adidas.

Adolf’s son, Horst Dassler, founded a company that produced swimming equipment in 1973. After his father died in September 1978, Horst and his mother Käthe (Adolf's widow) took over the management of Adidas. Adidas converted into a private limited company in 1989. It remained the property of the Dassler family until its initial public offering (IPO) in 1995.

2) Hasso Plattner

Hasso Plattner is the co-founder of multinational software corporation Systems, Applications & Products in Data Processing (SAP AG). Plattner has served as the chairman of the supervisory board of SAP since 2003 when he stepped down as SAP's chairman.

Plattner and SAP

Plattner was born on Jan. 21, 1944 in Berlin. In the early 1970s, he, along with Kalus Tschira and three other German engineers, were working for IBM on an enterprise-wide software system when they were told it was being scrapped. They decided to leave and start their own firm.

In June 1972, they founded the SAP Systemanalyse und Programmentwicklung ("System Analysis and Program Development" / "SAPD") company, as a private partnership. They began developing mainframe computer programs for business accounting and payroll, stored in an electronic database in "real time"—hence the initial R in the name of their SAP software.

The company's breakthrough came in the early 1990s with the R3 version of their software, which put management tools on the desktops of even small companies.

In August 1988, SAP became a public company, SAP AG, trading on German stock exchanges. In 2014, SAP changed from an AG to a European Company (Societas Europaea or SE).

Plattner Outside of SAP

Plattner has long been committed to science and economic efforts and has received many honors for his work. Germany's Manager magazine gave him its Leadership Award for Global Integration, also inaugurating him into its hall of fame. In 2001, Time magazine ranked Plattner at the top of the technology sector's most influential and important personalities.

Plattner is known also for his philanthropic efforts, providing substantial donations in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Africa. He is also sincerely dedicated to education. Since his retirement from SAP, he has acted as a benefactor in the field of technological research. In 1998, Plattner founded the Hasso Plattner Institute, based at the University of Potsdam and in California.

In 2005, Plattner established Hasso Plattner Ventures, a venture capital fund, with the primary goal of supporting up-and-coming entrepreneurs. As of 2009, the fund has nearly 20 companies in its portfolio.

Forbes estimates Plattner’s worth at approximately $15.8 billion.

3) Klaus Tschira

Klaus Tschira (1940-2015) was one of the original five co-founders of SAP, along with Hasso Platner. He served on the board from 1998 to 2007.

He was born on Dec. 7, 1940, in Freiburg, Germany, and obtained his Master's Degree in physics from theUniversity of Karlsruhe before going to work at IBM.

In 1995, Tschira established the Klaus Tschira Foundation (KTF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting a variety of projects in computer science, the natural sciences, and mathematics. After leaving his role on the board of SAP, Tschira, together with his wife Gerda, founded the Gerda and Klaus Tschira Foundation in 2008.

Tschira has been honored with a variety of awards and honorary titles at various German institutions for his dedication to the field of information technology and science. At the time of his death in 2015, Forbes estimated hie was worth $8.6 billion.