Klaus Gehrig, Leiter der Schwarz Gruppe.

Klaus Gehrig, president of the Schwartz Group.

Norbert Forsterling / Image Alliance / dpa

A sensation in Lidl and Kaufland: the sole ruler of the Schwarz group, Klaus Gehrig, abruptly leaves the company.

Internally, according to the corporate circles, there was a power struggle over the successor to the patriarch, namely, the appointment of an “important” person with whom he did not agree with the owner Dieter Schwartz.

Therefore, Schwartz granted Gehrig leave with immediate effect and initially took on his job as general partner himself.

Change of power in one of the largest German retail groups: Schwarz Group Chairman Klaus Gehrig resigns. The important step was taken because parent company director Liddell and Kaufland was unable to reach an agreement with owner Dieter Schwartz over a very important person, Schwarz Group announced Friday.

The Schwartz Group announced that Dieter Schwartz had given Gehrig a leave of absence with the stipulation of organizing further collaborations in another discussion. He also thanked him for the great development work over the past few years. The relationship between Dieter Schwartz and Klaus Gehrig remains undisturbed. This step was not easy for Black, as was said from business circles, after all, Gehrig was considered a kind of adopted son of the black patriarch.

Schwartz himself will now serve as general partner until Gerdt Khrzhanowski takes over as Gehrig’s designated successor and current Lidl chairman. It had been known since last year that Chrzanowski, who was initially Gehrig’s successor, would take the position at some point. But with this announcement, the company once again reaffirmed its commitment to Chrzanowski.

The internal struggle for power has been raging for some time

Gehrig has previously repeatedly tried internally to appoint his close friend, 30-year-old Melanie Koehler, as his successor, company circles say. This, combined with the fact that Gehrig repeatedly promoted young women to high positions, increasingly led to internal disagreements. Business Insider has learned from corporate circles that Gehrig will have to leave the company soon. In the end, Gehrig was no longer “like himself”, in conversations he gave the impression that he was acting particularly emotionally, that he was restless and that he could no longer name all the names. “He’s no longer the killer whale he used to be,” the company says.

Gehrig is the architect of the retail group that has made the Schwarz Group, with Lidl and Kaufland, one of the largest retailers in the world. He was also called the “killer whale” because he was considered a particularly difficult manager. For decades he was the face of the Schwartz group around Liddell and Kaufland. The patriarch has been running the business of owner Dieter Schwartz for decades and, as the only general partner after him, has the most power in Europe’s largest retail group. But his time as sole ruler was coming to an end for a long time.

Gehrig is the closest confidant of Dieter Schwartz, one of the richest Germans with a fortune estimated at 26.8 billion euros. Together, the two companions control a retail empire of more than 450,000 employees. Black in the background, Gehrig with plenty of leeway and a solid hand on the outside.

Gehrig’s career began with the biggest competitor of the Schwarz Group. In 1971, the 20-year-old joined Aldi Sud. After five years at the rival company, the ambitious managing director applied to young entrepreneur Dieter Schwartz and has since managed 33 branches of the family business’s discount store. Under his leadership, Lidl and the Schwarz Group have developed into a billion-dollar company that, according to its own data, recorded record sales of 125 billion euros in the past fiscal year.

“I could have been laid off multiple times at other companies,” Gehrig said, looking back on his long time with the company. The son of a farmer from Lower Bavaria is an old student at the school. Anyone who cooperates with him will enjoy his appreciation. In a headwind, Gehrig grabs hold of tightly. The wear and tear on the management team has always been great under his leadership. If managers grow too much under Gehrig’s leadership, he likes to let go of them. The chiefs of Kaufland and Lidl could only appear before the patriarch in humility. He once described himself as a “black knight”. The staff found another nickname for him: “killer whale.”

A sensation in the family business

However, there were exceptions. One of them was the 30-year-old top manager Melanie Koehler. She was considered Greg’s adopted daughter in the company. In 2016 he brought her to Schwartz’s set after she completed her studies. Koehler was CEO of Schwarz Services and a member of the Schwarz Unternehmensstreuhand public meeting. As a young woman new to the management floor, she was seen as the central figure of the future on the set.

But Kohler recently left the company abruptly, like that “Food Newspaper” mentioned. Therefore, her desire to pursue her professional development is outside the Schwartz group. This surprised not only the employees, but also the board of directors and, above all, Gehrig. Why does his esteemed assistant suddenly leave the retail group?

A power struggle to succeed Gerge

Köhler was viewed critically in the company from the start. As a young woman on Gehrig’s side, she initially had a controversial position in the company. But Kohler triumphed and earned the respect of her colleagues. Not least because of Gehrig’s own corporate philosophy. In the past, he was deeply committed to promoting the young female managers of Schwartz’s group. 30-year-old Julia Kern is also Vice President of Lidl and Stephanie Grisbaum with 36 is Vice President of Kaufland.

Kohler’s voice has been very important in the group lately. Sometimes you can stand up to the patriarch and contradict him. Insiders describe them as designers. Kohler set new impulses and also campaigned for a more modern and humane company. All indications were on the path to success. But now came the director who left a huge gap. For now, Gehrig will take over its area of ​​responsibility. If you take a closer look at the situation in the group, it becomes clear that your decision is also connected with Gehrig’s successor – the result of an internal power struggle.

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Because the patriarch planned to hand over the administration of the department in two years when he was seventy-five years old. Deputy Gerd Cherzhanovsky has been a hot candidate for this position since 2019. The Director is currently responsible for operational business and is the CEO of Lidl. The group now stood behind him. But with Kohler, Gehrig promoted Krzanovsky’s greatest rival. Internally, there should have been a power struggle between the two. According to the employee’s information, your relationship has been very strained lately.

The Big Bang came a few days before Greg’s 73rd birthday a few weeks ago. What exactly happened behind the scenes is unknown. But Kohler’s departure came so abruptly that internal disagreement over Gehrig’s successor could not be ruled out even at that time.

Is the patriarch about to finish?

Chrzanowski is also considered assertive and assertive. The 49-year-old has been active in the company since 2000 and supports the modernization cycle. The former Lidl boss has replaced Audi with BMW as the company’s vehicle supplier and is building the waste disposal business as a second pillar in the group as well as trading.

When it comes to digitization, the manager doesn’t do things in half, and among other things, he installed SAP expert Rolf Schumann as the group’s chief digital officer. “In the past, Gerd Chrzanowski has demonstrated his personal, professional and, above all, strategic qualities in various managerial positions and tasks,” Gehrig says of his potential successor.

Despite this, Kohler also got a good chance internally as the head of the Schwartz group. It would have been an exclamation point from the traditional family business. But it doesn’t get that far anymore. It is now very likely that Chrzanowski will take over the Gehrig business in the future. Chrzanowksi must also have a good connection with owner Dieter Schwartz.

Koehler and Gehrig’s departure from the company leaves many questions. They can only answer to a small group of people with great power in the company. But so far, one thing has been done above all: keep quiet.

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