Karl Albrecht, the German billionaire who built Aldi into one of the world’s largest discount retail businesses, said his career had been “lucky” in his only-known interview weeks before his death.
“It was so clear, so easy, anyone could do it,” Albrecht said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, from his home in Essen, Germany. “I’ve always believed in my ideas, and consistently implemented them.”
Albrecht took over his mother’s grocery story in 1946 with his brother, Theo, after being wounded on the Eastern front during World War II. The brothers built a 30-store chain within seven years. They 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.
Both brothers pioneered a low-cost business strategy that focused on selling a limited assortment of goods, keeping supply expenses low, and offering a minimal level of advertising. The result was a shopping experience that lacked the refinement of competing brightly-lit supermarket chains. In return, consumers often paid less than they would have elsewhere.
Karl Albrecht’s division, Aldi Sued, operates more than 4,860 stores and had about $51 billion in revenue in 2013. He died at age 94 July 16. He was the second-richest person in Germany and the No. 35 in the world at the time of his death, with a $20.9 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Aldi Group was the 11th-biggest retailer in 2013, according to London-based research company Planet Retail.
“We would have fallen asleep without Lidl,” he said, referring to retail competitor Lidl Gmbh & Co., the supermarket chain controlled by Dieter Schwarz, Germany’s richest man. Schwartz has a net worth of $22.5 billion.
“Wealth has meant little to me, except for the freedom and independence that came with it,” Albrecht said in the interview.
The billionaire said he considered himself stingy until his brother was kidnapped in 1971. The abductors demanded 7 million deutsche marks from the family. Karl negotiated his brother’s release before the kidnappers were arrested, and kept a low profile for the remainder of his life.
Following the episode, Karl said he decided “to use his wealth for a little pleasure making.” His hobbies included golf, raising orchids and collecting antique typewriters, the newspaper said.