The Klaus Tschira Foundation confirmed on Tuesday that its founder had died, unexpectedly, at the age of 74. It did not provide further details.
"We have lost a great founder and patron," software giant SAP said of Tschira.
The Freiburg-born Tschira, Dietmar Hopp, Hasso Plattner, Hans-Werner Hector and Claus Wellenreuther were working on a new software project at IBM in the 1970s when they were told that an acquisition from Xerox meant that their work was no longer needed.
Instead of abandoning the project, the German-based quintet decided to leave and found a new company in June of 1972. By the end of that year, according to SAP's website, they had already taken on nine members of staff, generating revenue of 620,000 deutschmarks.
SAP grew over the years into Europe's biggest software company, specializing in technological solutions for large companies and organizations. A key early boon for the company was the implementation of local storage and databases for computer systems - at a time when IBM still favored punch card technology. Due to this eliminating the need of processing the punch cards overnight, they called their software a "real-time" system, keeping the initial "R" in their main product names for decades in reference to this.
By 1988, SAP was floated on the German stock market. With a turnover of 16.81 billion euros in 2013 ($18.05 billion at today's exchange rate), SAP AG is Europe's biggest software company.
In 1998, Tschira and fellow co-founder Dietmar Hopp both stepped back to join the SAP board of directors, retiring from daily work at the company, to embark on new phases of their lives as philanthropists-come-patrons.
Hopp hails old friend
While Hopp, a keen former footballer from the southwest of Germany, poured his profits into German village football club Hoffenheim - propelling them from non-league obscurity all the way into the Bundesliga - Tschira stayed a little closer to his past career.
He set up the Klaus Tschira Foundation, based in Heidelberg, in 1995, to promote natural sciences, maths and information technology. In 1997, he also established the European Media Laboratory, an institute for applied information technology.
"Klaus Tschira was a patron, who poured his lifelong passion for natural sciences into countless projects," Theresia Bauer, Baden-Württemberg science minister, said on Tuesday.
Hopp said that he was "most deeply shocked" at the news of his friend's death; Tschira was not known to be suffering an illness.
"For him, sticking together was the most important thing - he was a real team player whose open, honest and inclusive manner captivated us on many occasions," Hopp said. "Even in critical phases, he never lost sight of what really mattered, and giving up was never an option for him - that's what made him so valuable to all of us."
Klaus Tschira and his wife, Gerda, had two children together.
msh/bk (dpa, Reuters)