A look at the reclusive owner of Aldi Nord and Trader Joe's

Here’s what we know—

Theo Albrecht hadn’t spoken publicly for nearly forty years. The last photograph taken of him was snapped in 1987 without his consent. He fought for the Wehrmacht in World War II, was once kidnapped for 17 days, collected old typewriters, and liked growing orchids. He had an estimated net worth of $16.7 billion.

If this sounds like a debriefing M might deliver to agent 007, then know that the source of Theo Albrecht’s fantastic wealth is considerably less glamorous. He wasn’t a black marketeer, jewel smuggler, cocaine baron, or high-tech weapons dealer.

Albrecht ran a discount grocery chain.

It started in 1948, when he and his brother Karl took over their mother’s corner grocery store in the city of Essen. In 1961, they changed the name to Albrecht Discount — or “Aldi,” as it became known. Their concept was simple but revolutionary. No marketing, no frills, no fresh produce. Never stock more than 500 different items and display them in the smallest possible space to avoid high real-estate costs. Scrimp and save wherever possible, then offer deep discounts to the customer.

The strategy would make the Albrecht brothers two of the richest men in Germany. But they split the company in half over a disagreement about, of all things, whether or not cigarettes should be sold at the cash register. It wasn’t out of a concern for public health — Karl was worried tobacco products would attract shoplifters, and thus erode profits. Theo then ran Aldi Nord while Karl oversaw Aldi Sud. Theo’s half of the Aldi company also owns Trader Joe’s in the United States, while Karl's maintains the Aldi brand in the U.S.

In 1971, Theo underwent a frightening ordeal that would send both brothers into seclusion. He was kidnapped at gunpoint by a Dusseldorf lawyer with gambling debts and held for 17 days until the Albrecht family agreed to pay a ransom of $4.6 million. Though the kidnapper was later caught and convicted, half the money was never found.

Ever the spendthrift, Theo Albrecht reputedly bargained his kidnapper down to a more reasonable ransom. In his tax filings, he also included the ransom as a business expense.

He died July 24, 2010, and in keeping with the veil of secrecy draped over all things Aldi, the family didn’t release news of his death until after his burial. No cause was given.