Reclusive German billionaire behind Aldi supermarkets dies, aged 94

Karl Albrecht, the reclusive German businessman who became one the world’s wealthiest people after co-founding the Aldi discount supermarket chain in the 1960s, has died. He was 94.

He died in Essen, Germany, on July 16 and was buried in a private ceremony. Albrecht was the second-richest person in Germany and the 35th-wealthiest in the world, with an estimated fortune of $20.9bn. With his brother, Theo, he built a business that ranked as the world’s 11th-biggest retailer in 2013, according to London-based research company, Planet Retail.

The Albrecht brothers split the Essen-based chain into separate companies — Aldi Sued and Aldi Nord — in 1962, following a feud over whether to sell cigarettes in the stores.

Karl, who didn’t give interviews and withdrew entirely from public life early in this career, took up management of Aldi Sued, which has outlets in southern Germany as well as the US, the UK, Australia and eastern Europe.

Aldi Sued operates more than 4,860 stores, according to its website. Its 2013 revenue was about $51bn, Planet Retail data show.

The brothers pioneered the low-cost business strategy that focused on a limited assortment of goods, pared down supply expenses, and offered a minimal level of advertising. The result was a shopping experience that lacked the refinement of brightly-lit supermarket chains. In return, consumers often paid less than they would have elsewhere.

Karl Hans Albrecht was born on February 20, 1920, in Essen. His father was a miner and baker, and his mother ran a grocery store. He served in the German army during World War II.

The Albrecht brothers took over their mother’s store in Essen in 1946 and within seven years, they developed it into a 30-outlet network of discount supermarkets. The first Aldi supermarket outside Germany opened in Austria in 1967.

In 1971, Theo was kidnapped by amateur con men, who demanded 7 million deutsche marks from the family. Karl successfully negotiated his release. Karl stepped down as Aldi Sued chief executive officer in 1994 and as chairman in 2002. Theo Albrecht, who also owned Trader Joe’s stores in the US, died in July 2010 at the age of 88.

With his wife, Maria, he had a daughter, Beate, and a son, Karl Jr., all of whom survive him. Albrecht’s hobbies included golf, raising orchids and collecting antique typewriters.


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