Franz Josef Popp (14 January 1886 in Vienna – 29 July 1954 in Stuttgart) was one of three men responsible for the founding of BMW AG and the First General Director of BMW AG from 1922 to 1942.
A number of different candidates have been put forward as the “founders” of BMW AG. In the absence of Karl Rapp, Gustav Otto, Max Friz or Camillo Castiglioni the company would probably never have been born. However, Franz Josef Popp can lay claim to being the prime force in the development of the mobility company we know today. He was “General Director” of the company from its foundation until he was forced to relinquish his position in 1942.
After the success of the BMW IIIa aeromotor, it was decided that Karl Rapp's contract be terminated by the managing board of Rapp Motorenwerke. Popp was appointed as managing director of the company, while at the same time, the name of the company was changed from Rapp Motorenwerke GmbH to Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH. This was intended to signal a new beginning to the outside world. Following its conversion into a joint-stock company, Popp was head of Bayerische Motoren Werke as chairman of the Board of Management, with the title of General Director.
At the end of the First World War, Popp was responsible for switching the young company from aircraft engine production to peacetime production. With this aim in mind, he worked towards creating a link with Knorr-Bremse AG, and from 1919 onwards, the factory started manufacturing Knorr brakes for the Bavarian Railway.
In 1922, Popp was responsible for transferring the most important patents, machinery and personnel for engine manufacture “to the umbrella of the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG” (formerly Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik), together with the company name Bayerische Motoren Werke AG.He was assisted in this endeavor by the Austrian financier Camillo Castiglioni. In this way, he was able to break free from Knorr-Bremse AG and start up engine construction once more.
Directly after the end of the war, at the age of 59, Popp was again appointed by the Supervisory Board to the Board of Management in May 1945. One month later, the Allies arrested him on account of his title Military Economic Leader, which he had been granted in the course of the war. During the denazification process he was designated as a “nominal member of the Nazi party” and was finally, after an appeal, classified as “untainted”. Franz Josef Popp then once more attempted to join the Board of Management at the Bayerische Motoren Werke. However, his attempts were completely unsuccessful and his move to Stuttgart marked the end of these ambitions. Popp died there on 29 July 1954.