|Birth||28 March 1922, Essen, Düsseldorf Government Region, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany|
|Death||24 July 2010, Essen, Düsseldorf Government Region, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (aged 88 years)|
Theodor Paul "Theo" Albrecht (28 March 1922 – 24 July 2010) was a German entrepreneur, who in 2010 was ranked by Forbes as the 31st richest person in the world, with a net worth of $16.7 billion. He owned and was the CEO of the Aldi Nord discount supermarket chain. In the US he owned the Trader Joe's specialty grocery store chain. His brother Karl Albrecht owned the Aldi Süd discount supermarket chain. The two chains originally were a single family enterprise until a friendly division of assets in 1960. Aldi Süd operates the Aldi groceries in the United States. Aldi and Trader Joe's, while owned by the brothers, have separate and distinct ownership and operations.
Theo Albrecht and his brother Karl revolutionized the German grocery market with a low-cost business model. They had developed the supermarket as an outgrowth of their mother's small grocery store, which she had opened in 1913, in Essen, after Theo’s father had developed emphysema as a miner. Theodor learned the grocery business from his mother, in order to escape the fate of his father in the mines. He and his brother Karl developed Albrecht Diskont, one of Europe’s largest chains of supermarkets, with the motto "The best quality at the lowest price," and now known by its acronym, Aldi. Forbes has estimated Theo's fortune from the supermarket chain as approximately £11 billion. Theodor and Karl Albrecht split the Aldi Company they founded in 1960 after a dispute about whether to sell cigarettes. The supermarket divided into two legally separate operating units with two geographical locations. Theodor's Aldi Nord set to operate in the north of Germany and Karl's Aldi Süd, set to operate in Germany's south. The progression of Aldi under Karl and Theodor Albrecht stands as one of Germany’s greatest success stories. Theodor retired from daily operations in 1993 and remained as chairman of the board.
In 1971, Albrecht was kidnapped for 17 days. A ransom of seven million German marks (approximately US$2 million at the time) was paid for his release. He was held at gunpoint by Heinz-Joachim Ollenburg, a lawyer, and his accomplice Paul Kron. The ransom sum was delivered by the Bishop of Essen. His kidnappers were eventually caught by authorities, but only half of the money was recovered. Albrecht later tried successfully to claim the ransom as a tax deductible business expense in court.
During World War II, Theodor was conscripted into the Wehrmacht where Theodor served with Rommel’s Afrika Korps in an army division. During World War II Theodor was captured by the Americans in Tunisia as a prisoner of war, but in 1946 he returned to Germany. It was said that his humble and harsh childhood formed Theodor’s early appreciation for the value of money.
Theodor’s kidnapping in 1971 partially gives reason for his and the family’s hermit-like manner of existence. The kidnapping left an impact on Theodor’s private concerns, causing him to drive to work using a different route every day in an armored automobile. Little is known about Theodor Albrecht and the Albrecht family’s personal life. The Albrecht family are known to be very reclusive and described by Forbes as ‘more reclusive than the yeti’. Characterized by their privacy, Theodor has rarely been pictured by photographers and he has never made a public statement. He was also claimed to be a devout Roman Catholic.
Theodor and his brother Karl were once said to own an island located in the North Sea where they would indulge in their hobbies such as golf and pastimes including the collecting of antique typewriters. Theodor and the Albrecht family, keeping out of the public spotlight are known to own highly secured estates overlooking the Ruhr valley. Claimed as being obsessed with frugality, it was said that Theodor collected and used pencil stubs frequently. He was also known to wear cheaper, poorly fitted suits and preferred plain meals with many potatoes. When he was asked to approve the plans for a new store in the Netherlands, he stated that the design was good but the paper it was drawn on was too thick: "If you use thinner paper we will save money."
Both Albrecht brothers have been reported by journalists to be highly reclusive; very little is known about their personal lives. The last published photo of Theo Albrecht dates to 1971, one day after his kidnapping. Another photo of the two Albrecht brothers together was taken in 1987 by journalist Franz Ruch.
Albrecht died 24 July 2010, in his home town of Essen, Germany.