A nuclear physicist by education and training, Helmut Panke would find his greatest financial success as chairman of the board of the Munich, Germany-based automobile manufacturer Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) AG, in which capacity he served from 2002 to 2006. Upon departing the field of nuclear research, Panke was hired by BMW AG in 1982 to be the head of its planning and control in the company’s research and development division. Panke was drawn to the BMW Corporation by virtue of its reputation for allowing independence among researchers and encouraging innovative thought. A member of Germany’s luxury car design and manufacturing sector, BMW catered to the wealthier clientele, which allows for greater creativity in the design of individual models. One of Panke’s contributions to BMW was the extent to which he injected the kind of creativity that attracted him to the company in the first place into the process by which individual customers order their vehicles. The BMW AG website, in fact, includes an option for prospective customers to design their own interiors (a link to that feature is provided below). In addition to developing a design philosophy that allowed for individual customer input into the interior design of that customer’s vehicle, Panke is also credited with expanding BMW AG’s profile internationally, particularly with the opening of a manufacturing facility in the United States (specifically, in South Carolina) as well as in India and China. A profile of Panke notes that “the BMW Group maintains its own production facilities in 12 countries and its own sales companies in 37 countries.” [http://www.europeanceo.com/profiles/2011/01/helmut-panke/]
Helmut Panke has since retired from BMW AG and today holds seats on the boards of a number of major corporations, including Microsoft, Singapore Airlines, and the Swiss banking giant UBS.