Karl Albrecht, the billionaire co-founder of discount German supermarket chain Aldi, has died aged 94.
Albrecht founded Albrecht Diskont, or Aldi, with his brother Theo Albrecht in the early 1960s, building on the growing grocery business they took over from their mother in the mid-1940s.
The chain now operates more than 7000 supermarkets across Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, the US, Ireland, Britain and Australia, where its operations are estimated to turn over more than $5 billion a year.
While Albrecht was an intensely private person, his life story is an inspiring rags-to-riches tale. Here’s five things you didn’t know about this supermarket king.
1. He learnt his trade in the family business
The genesis of Aldi can be found in a small food shop in the city of Essen in northwest Germany, where Karl and Theo Albrecht learned the retail ropes from their mother.
Karl Albrecht was born in 1920, and worked in a delicatessen before taking over a nearby food store and his mother’s business with Theo in 1946.
The pair expanded their operations rapidly, and by 1950 owned 13 stores in Germany’s Ruhr Valley, before splitting the business in two in 1960 and introducing the name Aldi in 1962. The company is still operating in two parts: Aldi Sud (South), which was owned by Karl, and Aldi Nord (North), owned by Theo until his death in 2010.
It was these humble beginnings that taught the brothers the value of their famous low-cost strategy, choosing to focus on non-perishable goods, limiting the money spent on advertising and even choosing not to provide telephones to branch managers.
2. He fought in World War II
Albrecht took time out from the family business to serve in the German army in World War II, during which time he was injured on the Russian front.
3. He worked alongside his brother for most of his life
Karl and Theo kept the family in business for most of their careers, with the brothers staying involved in the company until the 1990s. Karl stepped back from the operational side of the business in 1994 and stepped down as chairman in 2002.
Theo died in 2010 at the age of 88, with his son Theo Jnr co-owning his father’s portion of the Aldi business.
Karl and Theo’s bond was tested in 1971 when Theo was kidnapped for 17 days by a convicted burglar and his accomplice, who demanded the family pay 7 million deutsche marks. It was Karl who successfully negotiated Theo’s release, but the ordeal led the family to guard their privacy even more fiercely.
4. He was Germany’s richest man
From running a small grocery store in war-torn Germany, Albrecht’s business career led him to become the richest person with Germany and one of the richest people in the world.
According to Forbes, Albrecht’s personal fortune is estimated to be $US25.9 billion ($A27.64 billion). In 2012, he was ranked 10th on the World’s Billionaire list.
5. He lived in his home town for most of his life
Albrecht was born in the German town of Essen and he lived in the town his entire life. The original Aldi store still operates in Essen.