Breuninger Battle

A Gentlemen's Agreement Blows Up

Breuniger Modehaus in Stuttgart.
Hundreds of millions are at stake in the fight for the Breuninger fortune.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • The question of succession looms large for many German family businesses in the country’s important Mittelstand sector.
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  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Blumers is fighting his former colleagues for a 20 percent share in Breuninger, a department store chain estimated to be worth over €1 billion, or $1.11 billion.
    • Company patriarch Heinz Breuninger established the charitable Heinz Breuninger Foundation in 1968.
    • The foundation was dissolved in 2004, and two former board members bought the company. They were to hold them in trust for their colleagues, but then went back on the agreement.
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    Audio

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Corporate attorney Wolfgang Blumers felt at home in the courtroom. Over the course of his long career, he had handled many complicated tax cases in Stuttgart’s higher regional court. But this time was different – he was the plaintiff, not the counsel. And he wanted money. Lots of it.

Sitting meters away were the defendants, Willem van Agtmael and Wienand Meilicke, Mr. Blumers’ friends and colleagues of nearly 30 years.

Mr Blumers was seeking damages of €220 million, ($250 million), from them. He claimed they had betrayed him in a “gentlemen’s agreement” gone wrong.

The plaintiff and defendants once served together on the board of the foundation that ran the Stuttgart-based Breuninger department store chain.

In Stuttgart, in southwestern Germany, Breuninger is much more than just a name. The upscale department stores have an excellent reputation among the Mittelstand, Germany’s core of small and medium-sized businesses known for its many traditional family firms.

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