bmw stefan quandt
Stefan Quandt, deputy chairman of the supervisory board, BMW

When BMW was close to bankruptcy a half-century ago, industrialist Herbert Quandt decided at the last minute not to sell his 30% stake in the automaker, and in fact increase it to 50%. Good move. When Quandt died in 1982, his stake in BMW passed to his widow Johanna and their two children, and it is now worth more than $20 billion.

BMW has enjoyed a consistent run of success that continues even now. While other European automakers are suffering, BMW says it is heading for its best sales year ever, thanks to robust luxury car sales in the U.S., its largest market, and China. The company's October global volume increased by a hearty 13.2% to 157,618 vehicles.

The past few years haven't been all clear sailing for the Quandts, however, as details about their ties to Nazi Germany have come to light. Years before the family invested in BMW, they employed tens of thousands of slave laborers in plants making weapons and ammunition during World War II. A Quandt ex-wife married Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in a wedding at which Adolph Hitler was a witness. A family member has admitted it was "wrong" for the family to fail to acknowledge this part of its history.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated November 28 2012 06:18 AM ET
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