- Klaus Gehrig has resigned as CEO of the Schwarz Group, the German retail company that oversees the Lidl grocery brand, according to a company announcement Friday.
- The cause of the resignation was a disagreement between Gehrig and owner Dieter Schwarz over a “very important matter,” according to the announcement emailed to Grocery Dive.
- Schwarz will assume the chief executive position until Gerd Chrzanowski, currently CEO of Lidl and named successor to Gehrig, can take over the position.
Gehrig’s resignation brings a sudden end to a decades-long run with Lidl and its parent company, during which he oversaw the growth of the discount grocer brand throughout Europe and into the U.S.
Friday's announcement is a surprisingly candid admission for the typically secretive company of a disagreement between two top executives. The exact reason for the 73-year-old Gehrig’s departure remains unclear, though German trade publication Manager Magazin reported the disagreement with Schwarz involved Gehrig’s recent top-level appointments and determination to hold onto his position. The publication reported that Gehrig told confidantes he wanted to remain CEO until age 85, while the company wanted him to step down at 75.
Gehrig joined Lidl in 1976 from rival Aldi and helped the discount grocery brand scale across 32 countries. In 2004, he became Schwarz Group’s chief executive, taking over the role from Dieter Schwarz.
Under Gehrig, Lidl developed a systematic approach to retailing that stressed operational precision, efficiency and a reliance on company-manufactured goods. After years of unsettling entrenched grocery competitors in countries like England and Poland, the company entered the U.S. in 2017 with a promise to “rethink grocery.” It swiftly adjusted its approach after some early stumbles, which Gehrig called out publicly, and now operates more than 150 East Coast locations.
In April, Lidl US named Michal Lagunionek, formerly head of the retailer’s Poland division, as its new CEO beginning in June. Lagunionek succeeded Johannes Fieber, who left to spend more time with his family, according to an internal memo, and is Lidl US’ fourth CEO.