Theodor Paul and Karl Albrecht
Theodor was born in Schonnebeck, Essen, which is in the Ruhr region of Germany. He was born in 1922, and two years later, her brother Karl was born. Their father worked at a miner, which resulted in him fighting emphysema. To provide for their family, their mother opened up a small food shop. Theo learned to run the store from his mother, and Karl was an apprentice at the delicatessen. To earn extra money, the brothers sold bread rolls from a wooden cart to the people in town.
World War II
During World War II, both brothers served in the German army. While Karl was posted to the Eastern Front, he was wounded. Meanwhile, Theo was part of Rommel’s Afrika Corps, and in 1945, he was captured by U.S. soldiers in Tunisia. Eventually, both brothers ended up in prisoner-of-war camps. When they were finally released and allowed to go home, they found that their hometown was mostly destroyed. Just about everything was in ruin, but their mother’s shop managed to stay standing.
When the brothers returned home, they took over the shop, and business was booming. They were doing so well that they were able to expand by opening shops that carried only the essentials such as butter, milk, bread, etc. They created a self-service approach to shopping, and the aisles in the stores had no shelves. Instead, they stacked the boxes on wooden pallets. They did this not to be different, but out of necessity. They knew that to make a profit, they had to cut costs wherever possible. The Albrecht brothers’ empire was beginning, and soon, they had over 100 stores in their homeland. In 1961, they shortened the name from Albrecht Discount to Aldi.
A Falling Out
In 1961, the brothers had a falling out about whether or not they should sell cigarettes in their stores. Rather than trying to work it out, they divided the company into two operations within Germany. Theo stayed in Essen and ran, Aldi Nord, and Karl ran Aldi Sud, from the city of Mulheim.
Expanding To Other Countries
As the business continued to flourish, they expanded to other countries, and the brothers continued to split their territories. Theo took Europe, then expanding to Poland, France, Spain, and Portugal. Karl makes a riskier move by opening stores in the United States and Britain. He also opened stores in Australia.
Running In Secrecy
Aldi stores are run in such secrecy that the managers are forbidden to speak to the managers from other stores. Also, there are no phone numbers for the stores listed, and the managers are forbidden to speak to the media. Both brothers continued to keep their costs down, despite the success of their stores. Theo would use pencils in board meetings rather than pens, and once became angry because the paper used in his Holland store was too expensive. The stores were so successful that they ran every Walmart store in Germany out of business.
In 1971, when Theo was 49-years-old, he was kidnapped at gunpoint on his way home from work. His kidnappers were a convicted felon named Paul Kron ad a lawyer who was in debt due to gambling, Heinz-Joachim Oldenburg. They had Theo for 17 days, demanding ransom for his safe return. When they got the ransom, they let Theo go, only to be caught later.
Paul was captured when he spent an easily traceable 500-mark bill from the ransom money, which led the police right to him. Heinz was arrested while fleeing the country and was caught in Mexico. He was extradited back to Germany, and the men were sentenced to 8 ½ years in jail. The authorities only recovered half of the ransom money. The two kidnappers couldn’t agree on what they did with the rest of it. Paul said that he didn’t know where the rest of the money was. He claimed that Heinz gave him 10,000 Deutschmarks from Heinz, and Heinz was much more intelligent than him. Both men took the location of the money to their graves.
After the kidnapping, the frugal Theo wanted to get the money back that he paid for the ransom. The Owner Of Trader Joe’s Was Once Kidnapped – But He Had A Smart Plan To Get The Ransom Money Back. He applied for a tax break on the grounds that his kidnapping occurred because he owned Aldi; therefore, the ransom was a business expenditure. Theo also became more of a recluse, taking armored cars to work every day, and always taking a different route.
When the brothers were in their 80s, they both retired but remained on the board of directors. The brothers made up and spent their days playing golf together. Theo never got over the kidnapping completely.