GERMAN billionaire Berthold Albrecht, who became one of Europe's richest men after he and his brother Theo inherited the Aldi discount supermarket chain, has died aged 58, his family announced yesterday.
The brothers' fortune, held by a family foundation, was estimated at $17.8bn (€13.75bn) by Forbes, placing them 32nd in its list of billionaires.
After World War Two, Theo and his brother Karl turned the small grocery store their mother operated in Essen into one of the nation's largest food retail chains, with their focus on a limited selection of bargain goods in sparse stores.
"Berthold was a fighter, and full of hope to the end," his wife, Babette, wrote in a full-page notice published in several German newspapers, indicating that he had been ill for some time.
The family has taken a back seat from day-to-day operations at Aldi since 1993, when Berthold's father appointed managers from outside the family, and Berthold's death is unlikely to have any significant impact on the company
"There will be no change to the operational business," Westend Brokers analyst Klaus Kraenzle said, highlighting how the reins had already been handed over to external managers. "Management is aware of the challenges they are facing from Lidl, which is acting very aggressively."
The dominance of the German food retail market by discounters Aldi and Lidl has made it difficult for outside players to make money from supermarkets in Europe's largest economy, with even the mighty Wal-Mart having to concede defeat.
Yesterday's notice from the notoriously private family said that Berthold's funeral had taken place in November, but it did not give further details of the circumstances of his death.
The family has fiercely guarded its privacy since the kidnapping of Theo for 17 days in 1971. He was eventually released after a ransom of about $3m was paid.
True to his thrifty principles, Theo then went to court to have the ransom classified as a tax-deductible business expense.