Härtnagel’s arrival in the UK nine months ago was initially shrouded in mystery. He was an unknown in this country, parachuted in to take over from Ronny Gottschlich, who was suddenly and abruptly fired by his German paymasters after six years at the helm.
Rumours spread that the cost-focused Lidl parent group was unhappy with Gottschlich’s reliance on marketing and a strategy that seemed to have drifted too far away from the stern discounter model. Lidl has remained extremely tight-lipped on the matter but Härtnagel’s approach seems to suggest bosses didn’t think his predecessor had his foot hard enough on the pedal.
“I found out in a hotel room that I was being made the head of UK just an hour after Ronny was told … I don’t know the details about why he left,” Härtnagel says of the boardroom shuffle. “I was told by our global boss and arrived here two days after Ronny left. I’ve flown back just once since then to clear out my office.”
He says all this in an unusual and surprising Irish lilt, due to the time he spent running Lidl’s Irish division in Charleville, County Cork. The three years rubbed off on him – his speech is occasionally peppered by the odd “to be sure” and he reveals his three-year-old son is called Connor. “When I arrived I had very basic English, it was all “two beers please”, but the Irish are very friendly people.”