Otto Beisheim was born on 3 January 1924 in Voßnacken near Velbert. After attending school in Mühlheim an der Ruhr, he started a commercial apprenticeship there in 1938. But his professional life was interrupted by the Second World War. In 1942 he entered military service at the age of 18 and was taken prisoner by the British in 1945. After his release from captivity in 1946 Otto Beisheim went back to his commercial training. His business sense as well as his feel for innovation enabled him to keep striking new paths. In 1964 Otto Beisheim was named chief executive of METRO and transformed it into an internationally successful retail company by introducing the cash & carry model. Together with Otto Beisheim, the families Schmidt-Ruthenbeck and Haniel were equal shareholders of METRO until its IPO in 1996.
From the 1990s onward, Otto Beisheim also devoted himself to new entrepreneurial activities, including the development of start-up companies. From 1988 Otto Beisheim and his wife Inge became involved with the WHU, the Wissenschaftliche Hochschule für Unternehmensführung (School of Management) in Vallendar near Koblenz, which today is one of the most renowned business schools in Europe. Otto Beisheim's charitable commitment played an important role throughout his life.
Otto Beisheim died on February 18, 2013 at the age of 89 in Rottach-Egern, Bavaria. The foundations that bear his name continue his philanthropic legacy.
Otto Beisheim bequeathed his estate to a Swiss and a German foundation. The two charitable foundations of the same name are legally independent entities. They each have their own investment companies, which exclusively manage and invest their respective assets.
The circumstances of Otto Beisheim’s membership in the Waffen SS during the Second World War are currently being researched in an independent scientific study by Prof. Dr. Joachim Scholtyseck, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (University of Bonn). The results are expected in 2019.