THEO ALBRECHT was the pioneer of a distinct brand of pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap shopping that transformed retailing in Germany, much of Europe and, more recently, Britain. He and his brother, Karl, became two of the world's richest - but most secretive - businessmen, shunning the limelight while their Aldi stores thrived.
Taking over the family store in Germany's industrial heartland of Essen after World War II, having been released from Allied prisoner-of-war camps, the Albrechts transformed the business into Albrecht Discount - or Aldi - and created what they called a new "hard-discount" shopping concept.
Goods were sold in the stores on the pallets on which they arrived. Staff costs were kept low and the range of items limited to own-brand best-sellers and an ever-changing assortment of one-off items. The company's motto was "the best quality at the lowest prices".
The brothers divided Germany along an agreed line with Theo retaining the northern part while Karl opened similar stores in the south.
They adopted a similar approach abroad, not competing with each other but making significant inroads into other European countries and the US - taking on Walmart, the world's largest retailer, on its home turf after having helped chase it out of Germany.
Although hugely successful, Theo and Karl refused to discuss their business.
Theo was kidnapped in 1971, with a reported ransom of 7million deutschmark paid, but he never spoke in public about the incident. The last known photos of the brothers are believed to be from the 1980s.
Exact details of the company's finances remain equally elusive, but the brothers have consistently been at the head of any list of rich Germans: this year's Forbes list put Karl - who is now 90 - at Number 10, with a $23.5bn estimated fortune, and Theo at number 31, with $16.7bn.
Theo stepped back from day-to-day involvement in the business over the last decade and had been ill in the period leading up to his death.
His sons, Theo Jr. and Berthold, are involved in the business, which is also run by outside managers and controlled by a family foundation. Theo Albrecht, retail pioneer born 1922; died, July 24, 2010
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|Publication:||Daily Post (Liverpool, England)|
|Date:||Aug 2, 2010|
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