After Lidl’s power struggle: Is “Killer Whale” Claus Gehrig nearing the end?

Claus Gehrig, head of the Schwarz group.

Claus Gehrig, head of the Schwarz group.

Norbert foresterling / picture alliance / dpa

  • A blast in the Schwarz Group: Melanie Koehler, supported by managing director Klaus Gehrig, surprisingly left the company.
  • Internally, according to corporate circles, there was a power struggle for the chancellor’s successor.
  • Melanie Köhler and former Lidl boss Gerd Krzanowski had the best chances for the position. It is said that shortly before Gehrig’s 73rd birthday, both of them had a quarrel.

Klaus Gehrig’s face is Black group a Lidl And Kaufland. Patriarch has been managing owner Dieter Schwarz’s business for decades and, after him as the sole general partner, is the largest power in Europe’s largest retail conglomerate. But his time as the sole ruler is running out. There is now a blast in the struggle of his successor which no one in the company had imagined. Is Gehrig’s empire peaking shortly before he leaves?

Gehrig is the closest confidant of Dieter Schwarz, one of the richest Germans with an estimated net worth of 26.8 billion euros. Together, the two long-time partners rule the retail empire with over 450,000 employees. Black in the background, Gehrig with plenty of leeway and a tight arm on the outside.

Gehrig’s career began with the Schwarz Group’s biggest contender. In 1971, then-early 20-year-old Aldi joined Sood. After five years at a competitive company, the aspiring managing director applied for young entrepreneur Dieter Schwarz and has since managed 33 discount store branches of the family business. Under him, the Lidl and Schwarz Group grew into a billion-dollar company that, according to its own statements, recorded record sales of 125 billion euros in the last financial year.

Given my long time with the company, Gehrig said, “I would have been laid off from work many times in other companies.” The son of a farmer from Lower Bavaria is an old school man. Anyone who draws with him will enjoy his appreciation. In the headwind, Gehrig barely catches it. There was always a breakdown in the management team. If the manager became too strong under Gehrig, he would have liked to cut them. The owners of Cofland and Lidl could only appear before the chancellor with humility. He once described himself as a “Black Knight”. Employees got another nickname for him: “Killer Whale”.

Explosion in family business

However, there were exceptions. One of them was 30-year-old top manager Melanie Kohler. She was considered the foster daughter of Gehrig in the company. After completing his studies in 2016, he was brought into the Schwarz Group. Köhler was CEO of Schwarz Services and a member of the Schwarz Untermehnsstrehund general meeting. As a new, young woman on the management floor, she was seen as the future central figure in the group.

But Köhler is now surprisingly leaving the company like him “Food Newspaper” Reported last Wednesday. Hence it is his own desire to pursue his professional development outside of the Schwarz Group. This surprises not only the staff, but also the board of directors and above all, Gehrig. Why should their respected assistant suddenly leave the retail group?

Power struggle to succeed Gehrig

Kohler was viewed critically at the company from the start. As a young woman on Gehrig’s side, she initially had a controversial position in the company. But Kohler won and earned respect from his colleagues. This was not in the least because of Gehrig’s own corporate philosophy. In the past, he was strongly committed to promoting young female managers in the Schwarz Group. Julia Kern, 30, is also Lidl’s deputy boss and Stephanie Griezbaum is Cofland’s deputy boss with 36.

Recently Kohler’s voice was very important in the group. Sometimes she could stand in front of the chancellor and refute it. Insiders describe him as determined. Köhler set new impulses and also campaigned for a more modern and more humane company. All signs were on the road to success. But now came the exhaust, which leaves a big hole. For now, Gehrig will handle his own area of ​​responsibility. If you look closely at the group’s position, it becomes clear that your decision is also linked to Gehrig’s successor – and is the result of an internal power struggle.

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Because Patriarch plans to hand over the management of the division at the age of 75 in two years. Deputy Gerd Krzanowski is a hot candidate for the post since 2019. The manager is currently in charge of the operational business and is the CEO of Lidl. The 49-year-old is given good chances. But with Köhler, Gehrig promoted Krzanowski’s biggest competitor. It is said that there was a power struggle between the two internally. According to employee information, your relationship has been very tense lately.

The big bang took place last Sunday, a few days before Gehrig’s 73rd birthday. What exactly happened behind the curtain is not known. But Kohler’s departure comes so suddenly that an internal dispute about Gehrig’s successor cannot be ruled out.

Is patriarchy about to end?

Krzanowski is also considered to be determined and outspoken. The 49-year-old has been active in the company since 2000 and stands for a modernization course. Lidl’s former boss swapped Audi for BMW as a company car supplier and is building the waste disposal business as the second pillar in the group in addition to the business.

When it comes to digitization, the manager does not work half-heartedly and, among other things, establishes SAP specialist Rolf Schumann as the chief digital officer in the group. “In the past, Gerd Chrzanowski has proven his personal, professional and, above all, strategic qualities in various management functions and functions,” Gehrig says of his potential successor.

Despite this, Kohler was also given a good chance internally as head of the Schwarz Group. It would have been an exclamation mark from a traditional family company. But now he does not know. Now it is very likely that in the future Krzanowski will take over Gehrig’s business. Chrzanowksi should also have a good relationship with Dieter Schwarz.

Kohler’s decision to leave the company has raised many questions. They can only respond to a small selection of people with great power in the corporation. However, so far, one thing has been done at the top: shut up.

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