Berthold Albrecht: Aldi heir who helped build the company's position of global dominance

 

Berthold Albrecht was one of Germany's and Europe's richest men and the billionaire co-owner of the Aldi discount supermarket empire. His death was announced on 9 December in a statement released by the notoriously reclusive family the month after a private burial. No cause of death was given. His wife declared: "Berthold was a very loving and extremely generous human being, an exemplary husband and father." She also described him as a "fighter, never losing hope right to the end," suggesting that he had been ill for some time.

Berthold, born in 1954, was the son of Aldi's co-founder Theo Albrecht Snr, who died in 2010 at the age of 88. Berthold grew up under his father's wing, learning the business and eventually taking over the running of the company with his brother, Theo Jnr.

Aldi's achievements are seen as one of Germany's greatest economic success stories. Theo Snr and his brother Karl turned their mother's corner shop in Essen into the no-frills Aldi Empire, which currently extends to over 10,000 stores worldwide and in 2010 placed the brothers on Forbes' rich list with a combined fortune of over $40bn (£26.7bn), exceeded only by those of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and the Mexican Carlos Slim.

The key to Aldi's success was its devotion to cost-cutting, allowing it to sell a limited assortment of goods at bargain prices with minimal advertising costs. Aldi's thrifty ways were a reflection of its founders' personalities with neither brother flaunting his wealth; at board meetings Theo Snr was renowned for taking notes with pencil stubs rather than an executive fountain pen.

After the Second World War, out of necessity they had sold only a small number of essential items, while experimenting with a no-frills self-service format. The goods were not displayed on shelves but in cardboard boxes stacked on wooden pallets. Within a decade, as Germany's economic recovery gathered momentum, they owned more than 100 stores. By 1961, the retail chain was formally given the name Aldi, a contraction of "Albrecht discount".

Aldi stuck to its motto of "best quality, lowest price". Its operations were run with military discipline and attention to detail, and in such secrecy that Aldi managers were forbidden not only to talk to the press, but even to colleagues in other districts. The company grew to become a global phenomenon by spending almost nothing on advertising and by simplifying its inventory, stocking only a fraction of the products featured in regular supermarkets. Customers pay extra for plastic bags in which they pack their own groceries, which keeps staff numbers down. The stores are generally small and spartan, and to maximise efficiency often have unlisted telephone numbers so employees are not interrupted. The German stores were so dominant that not even the US discount giant Walmart could compete, and withdrew from Germany in 2006.

In 1961, following a disagreement on whether to sell cigarettes, the brothers divided their business into two operations within Germany, Theo running Aldi Nord, and Karl Aldi Süd. As the brand continued to grow, the brothers divvied up the globe; Karl got the rights to Australia, US and UK, where there are now over 400 stores in operation. Aged 92, he is ranked by Forbes as the richest man in Germany with a fortune of £15.6bn.

In 1979, Theo Sr purchased the American discount gourmet retailer Trader Joe's, the supermarket chain that recently saw off its main rival, Tesco's Fresh & Easy. With his death in 2010, Berthold and Theo Jr took full control of Aldi Nord with 50 per cent each. Both brothers served on the firm's supervisory board and Berthold was chairman of one of the family foundations which hold the shares.

In 1993, the family started appointing outside managers and took a back seat from day-to-day operations. However, Berthold, who is credited with the company's success in the lucrative US market, was said to have brought a forward-thinking strategy to the company's management. As a result, with the reins of power having already been handed over to new managers, Berthold's death is unlikely to have any significant impact on the company, with, a statement said, "no change to the operational business."

Neither Aldi Nord nor Aldi Süd publishes company accounts, but according to the trade information service Planet Retail, the two companies had an estimated global turnover of €58bn (£47bn) in 2011. Berthold was believed to have a personal fortune of £6.7bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Little is known about the Albrecht family except their obsession with privacy; they live behind fortress-like security on estates overlooking the Ruhr valley, maintaining an almost total media black-out with only a handful of photographs of the male members in existence. Their reputation for reclusiveness is part of German business folklore.

Their seclusion perhaps stems back to 1971 following Theo Snr's kidnapping. He was held for 17 days and the family paid the equivalent of £2.3m for his release. However, it later emerged that the ever-frugal Theo had himself negotiated the ransom. He then went to court to have the ransom classified as a tax-deductible business expense. Thereafter, he never spoke to the media again and the family have since gone to great lengths to avoid being photographed.

Berthold is survived by his wife Babette and their five children, including quadruplets born in 1990.

Martin Childs

Berthold Albrecht, businessman: born Essen, Germany 14 August 1954; married Babette (five children); died Essen 21 November 2012.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz