Dr. Albert Heijn

Albert Heijn, who died in January 2011 at age 83, played a key role in turning his family's Dutch grocery chain into the international food retailing group Royal Ahold, which owns more than 3,000 supermarkets in Europe and the US. He also pioneered many features of modern supermarkets, such as standardised barcodes and own brands. Ahold, which includes such American chains as Bi-Lo, Giant Food Stores and Stop & Shop, had revenues of more than 29bn ($39bn) in 2010. The original family company founded in 1887 by Heijn s grandfather also called Albert is the Dutch equivalent of Britain s Tesco or Sainsbury, with more than 800 stores. Nicknamed Appie by the Dutch, it is credited with introducing many customers to exotic foods and ready-made meals. Heijn was among the first supermarket bosses to introduce sell-by dates, organic and other private label products as well as bonus or club cards and the machine-readable barcode system at check-outs. In the early 1970s, he was a driving force behind the international barcode standard used in most countries today. He and his younger brother, Gerrit Jan Heijn, oversaw the family company s expansion until Gerrit was kidnapped and murdered in 1987 in spite of payment of an undisclosed ransom. Heijn retired two years after his brother s death but rather than Monte Carlo or the Dutch Caribbean, he settled in a castellated mid-19th century mansion outside the sleepy English village of Pudleston, Herefordshire, on an estate dotted with ornamental lakes and a herd of imported alpacas. He and his fourth wife, Monique Everwijn Lange, whom he married in 1992, became philanthropists in the local community. He set up a company, Eign Enterprise based on the way English neighbours pronounced his name which created what became known as the Left Bank village, a complex of shops, bars, restaurants and a conference centre on the banks of the river Wye. Described as a little corner of England that is forever Holland , the village brought vibrancy to the area for a while but ultimately proved unprofitable and was sold. Born in Zaandam in the Netherlands in 1927, the young Albert was diagnosed with polio while still at school and spent his latter years in a wheelchair. He studied economics at the University of Amsterdam before graduating from the Nyenrode School of Business, now Nyenrode Business University, and joined the family business. His training included stints with the Swiss Migros chain in Zurich and with Pearks and Maypole in London. He introduced Heijn supermarkets magazine, AllerHande, which today has a monthly circulation of more than 2m. He became chief executive of Albert Heijn in 1962, and of the parent company Ahold in 1973. His motto was: You don t sell on behalf of your suppliers you buy on behalf of your customers. I want my customers to feel fun, convenience and trust. When he retired, he donated a statue that stands outside the company s headquarters. Depicting a customer carrying shopping bags, the statue, nicknamed Beppie by the Dutch, bears the inscription: Lest we forget for whom we work. I may be a born businessman, but I still feel more empathy for the shopper than for businesses who are only concerned with their stock price and their latest takeover bid, Mr Heijn said in an interview. I m proud that my passport lists my profession as grocer . It s one of the finest professions in the world. He is survived by his wife Monique and his son Albert from his first marriage to Herma Schipper. from The Financial Times Limited 2011.