Lidl recalls successful Irish chief executive for musical chairs at the top

Gary L Hider /

The game of musical chairs at the top of Schwarz Gruppe continues. The German discount group has brought back old acquaintance Ken McGrath to become vice-chairman of Lidl. It seems likely that he will soon replace current chairman Gerd Chrzanowski, who is on his way to the top position at Schwarz, where recently a power shake-up took place.


Old acquaintance

McGrath has already been at the helm of Lidl's Irish division between 2009 and 2013, a period in which both the market share and the turnover of Lidl Ireland grew. That good performance was rewarded with the opportunity to lead the American expansion of Lidl. Meanwhile, the chain has around one hundred stores in the United States, mainly along the East Coast.


Afterwards, McGrath decided to leave the retail industry for a while: he was recruited by Digicel, a telecom player mainly active in Latin America and Oceania. A remarkable move, but the fact that a fellow Irishman (Denis O'Brien) owns Digicel is presumably no coincidence. McGrath ran Digicel's Caribbean operations for a while, but soon returned to his old love for retail. Until now, he was the head of American discount chain Save-A-Lot.


Power shake-up

McGrath returns to Lidl at a particularly turbulent time for its owner, Schwarz Gruppe. Recently, a power shake-up took place: CEO Klaus Gehrig was unexpectedly let go, and owner Dieter Schwarz took control of the operations of Lidl on a temporary basis, awaiting the appointment of a 'real' successor.


That man is supposed to be Chrzanowski, who has been the likeliest person to succeed Gehrig for years. However, it was the latter who is said to have blocked Chrzanowski's promotion in favour of 30-year-old Melanie Köhler. She was preferred by Gehrig, who thus lived up to his internal reputation of promoting young women quickly. But this manoeuvre proved a bridge too far for Schwarz.


With Gehrig out of the way, Chrzanowski is expected to make a prompt switch to Schwarz Gruppe, allowing McGrath to move up a chair. With that, when the music stops at Lidl and Schwarz Gruppe, everyone should have found their seat.