Germany is a country of family businesses; they account for a full 90 percent of all companies. But families are often at odds with each other. Germany’s largest discount chain is no exception. Germany can be divided in different ways: Some speak of the Weisswurst equator, others draw the line where no one celebrates carnival anymore. But perhaps the most decisive border runs from the Lower Rhine via Mühlheim to north of Fulda along the A45 autobahn: the division into Aldi North and South. According to statistics, around 85 percent of Germans regularly shop at the discount chain. Worldwide, Aldi is one of the ten largest retail groups. Together, there are more than 11,000 stores of Aldi North and South. However, the stores have not been operated jointly since the 1960s. At that time, the two sons of founder Karl Albrecht, Karl and Theodor, fell out.
What separated the Aldi brothers?
There are various speculations about the Aldi brothers’ falling out. The most commonly reported is that the dispute broke out when tobacco products were introduced into the product range. Karl was against the sale of cigarettes, while his brother Theo wanted to include them in the range. Without further ado, Aldi split into North and South. At that time, there were already 300 Aldi stores with gross sales of around 90 million marks. The “healthy brother competition,” as it was called at the time, remained until Theo’s death in 2010. But the death of the Aldi brothers did not end the dispute in the Albrecht family. On the contrary, there have been repeated disputes between the heirs ever since. Above all, there is trouble in Theodor Albrecht’s branch of the family. Since his son Berthold also died in 2012, Berthold’s widow Babette, their joint five children and Berthold’s brother Theodor have been fighting over the inheritance. This is also due to the fact that the company’s assets are divided into three foundations, the Markus, Lukas and Jakobus foundations. All three foundations have to agree to major investments. Berthold had headed the Jakobus Foundation; after his death, there is now a dispute about how many family members may sit on the board.
How did the Aldi company come into being?
Aldi is a German success story. Karl Albrecht senior and his wife Anna opened a corner store in Essen-Schonnebeck in 1913. A few years later, it became the “Kaufhaus für Lebensmittel Karl Albrecht” (Karl Albrecht Food Store). The store continued to exist as an Aldi store until 2020. After the Second World War, the two sons of the founder took over the family business. A steep ascent began: Just ten years later, the brothers were already operating 100 stores. The Aldi name was adopted in 1962. In recent years, the Aldi heirs have regularly topped the list of the richest Germans. Fun fact: In two places in Germany, customers can choose directly between the two versions of Aldi, despite the separation of the companies into North and South – in Gummersbach and Siegen there is one Aldi North and one Aldi South store.
Why do people hear so little about the Albrecht family?
The Aldi family has always been in the lists of the richest Germans for years, but photos and media appearances are rare. Karl Albrecht’s great-grandchildren are virtually unknown to the public. The rest of the Albrecht dynasty also lives in seclusion. One exception causes displeasure: widow Babette, in contrast to the rest of the family, likes to appear at social events such as parties and art exhibitions. This does not suit other family members at all. One reason for the family’s reticence is probably the kidnapping of Theo Albrecht in 1971. The Düsseldorf lawyer Heinz Joachim Ollenburg and the convicted safecracker Paul Kron had chosen their victim from a book about rich Germans and ambushed him in front of the company headquarters in Herten. The kidnapping lasted 17 days and was ended by a payment of seven million marks in ransom. The perpetrators were caught and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison each. However, the ransom was never found.
What impact did the Aldi dispute have?
The split did little harm to the company. Both Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd are popular with customers. In particular, the introduction of “non-food items” such as computers in the 1980s helped Aldi finally break through. Since then, the company has been expanding worldwide, and the discount chain from Germany has even been able to hold its own in the highly competitive US market. Just recently, the company announced plans to hire 20,000 workers. Read the full story here. There are other stores in Portugal and Australia, among other places. Even in China, Aldi is represented, but here only online. In 2018, the two companies also announced their intention to cooperate more again in the future. In 2020, “Manager Magazin” reported that a super merger was to take place by 2022 in order to pool resources. The companies are already coordinating on advertising and special offers.