In 1886 in Stuttgart, 25-year-old electrical engineer Robert Bosch founded the not-so-snappily-titled Workshop for Precision Mechanics & Electrical Engineering. Although a farmer's son, Bosch was no hayseed: his business quickly established itself in the new world of the internal-combustion engine. Bosch developed improved ignition systems and invented the high-voltage spark plug in 1902. By 1913, 88% of revenues were from exports. The slump in the 1930s prompted Bosch to diversify into consumer markets: in 1932 it launched the world's first hammer drill and a year later the first domestic refrigerator. In 1937, the philanthropic Bosch reorganised his firm as a private limited company whose surplus earnings would go to charity - as they do today. Thus was Robert Bosch GmbH born.
In 2009, Bosch suffered its worst ever year - total sales plummeted 16% to EUR38bn, leading to a loss of EUR1.2bn. But, thanks to its diversity and robust ownership model, it was back in the black last year, with a profit of nearly EUR3.5bn. As well as automotive products, Bosch ranges across electronics, white goods, industrial machinery and energy and healthcare technologies.
Who's the boss?
No accountants or marketing types need apply. The chairman since 2003, Franz Fehrenbach, is an engineer, as are five board directors. Bosch bosses usually stick around - the UK operation, dating from 1898 and the number one subsidiary, is run by Peter Fouquet, a veteran of 24 years.
The secret formula?
Long-termism. Bosch's byzantine governance model has been designed to safeguard its independence and free it from having to line investors' pockets. A charitable trust holds 92% of the group's stock, while 93% of the voting rights are controlled by RBIK, a 10-strong panel drawn from industry and academia. It's a takeover-proof firm, almost impossible to sell or break up.
Maintaining investment in innovation despite the recession. In 2010, Bosch spent nearly EUR4bn on R&D, 45% of which was spent on eco-technologies. It also applied for over 3,800 patents.
Don't mention ...
During World War II, Bosch's factories were turned over to munitions, employing POWs and forced labour. But, in private, Robert Bosch resisted the Nazi government, secretly helping victims of persecution.
Employees: 285,000 (4,500 in the UK)
Charitable donations: EUR63.2m
- All figures for 2010 financial year