With his innovative approach to retail, Raymond Ackerman changed the way South Africans shopped. Emerging Stars identifies six tips for success from the life and times of the groundbreaking businessman. In 1966, Ackerman purchased four small shops in Cape Town, launching Pick ‘n Pay as South Africa’s first food discounter. Now the company has over 940 stores throughout southern Africa, with operations in food, clothing, alcohol, and general merchandise sectors as well as financial services. Ackerman has pioneered several retailing concepts in the region, being the first to launch one-stop hypermarket shopping and the first to supply generic or ‘no name’ brands. What can we learn from his eventful journey?
1. The customer is king. While studying commerce at university, Ackerman was greatly influenced by a lecturer who introduced him to the ideas of consumer sovereignty, of serving the customer in the way that a doctor serves a patient, of approaching business as a mission rather than simply as a way of making money.
2. Building a successful business is 90% guts and 10% capital. When Ackerman was fired from his first job, he struggled to decide what to do next. An acquaintance convinced him that you don’t need vast amounts of cash to start a business – much more significant is passion and dedication. With that realisation, he found the courage to launch his own company.
3. Your mission must become a passion. At the heart of Pick ‘n Pay’s operational ethos from the beginning was the idea that people matter more than anything else. Ackerman has consistently been a forward-thinking and generous employer as well as a passionate, doughty fighter on behalf of the consumer against monopolies, cartels and government price controls.
4. Failures and disappointments are inevitable. During the 1980’s Ackerman attempted to expand the company beyond southern Africa with the opening of a large store in Brisbane, Australia. The venture did not work out, and neither did a partnership enterprise in the Philippines in the late 1990s. When the issue of succession in the business arose, the outcome was also not as Ackerman had initially hoped and the family had to choose between control of the business and management of it, opting in the end for retaining control.
5. The more you give, the more you get back. Pick ‘n Pay had social responsibility programmes before they were even given that name. In the 1970s Ackerman and his family established the Ackerman Family Educational Trust, donating two percent of their personal shares to the foundation which uses dividends to fund a range of individual and institutional educational causes.
6. Pay it forward. Pick ‘n Pay’s franchise operation has helped create 388 individual entrepreneurs, many drawn from South Africa’s previously disadvantaged communities. At the same time, the model has enabled rapid growth and expansion for the business.
Although he’s now retired from the company, Ackerman’s practical wisdom and sound business acumen continue to inspire new generations of entrepreneurs.
Read more in Raymond Ackerman’s books A Sprat to Catch a Mackerel, Hearing Grasshoppers Jump, and The Four Legs of the Table.