Horten was apprenticed in a Düsseldorf department store belonging to Leonhard Tietz before working for the Duisburg department store of the Gebrüder Alsberg (Alsberg brothers) company.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Horten was able to acquire the company from the Jewish owners, Strauß and Lauter, who fled to the United States. He was aided in this transaction by the banker Wilhelm Reinhold of the Commerzand Disconto-Bank. The bank was to become a partner in the newly formed Horten & Company
Horten was able to acquire the distribution rights to certain goods which were scarce due to war.
After the Second World War Horten was interned by the British Army in 1947 in Recklinghausen.
Following a hunger strike he was released in 1948. He soon continued with the consolidation and expansion of his company, which he still owned.
Horten introduced Germany"s first supermarket after a visit to the United States, the copying of this business model expanding the group quickly. In 1968, with 25,000 staff and turnover of €1Bn, he floated the group on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
In 1972 Horten sold his majority stake and retired from the business, which controversially lost a great deal of value soon afterwards.
In 1994 the chain was bought by Kaufhof Holding AG, merged into the German retail group METRO AG in 1996.