Raymond Ackerman, 80, is the founder of the Pick ‘n’ pay chain of Supermarkets, a brand that has created a cult-like following among shoppers.
VENTURES AFRICA – Success was a long way coming for Raymond Ackerman, the founder of South African retail giant, Pick ‘n’ Pay. After acquiring a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Capetown in 1951, the 20 year-old Raymond took up a job as a Management trainee at Ackermans, a clothing retail outfit founded by his father, Gus Ackerman. Greatermans group, a rival outlet, subsequently acquired the company and Raymond was given a senior position.
By 1950, Ackerman discovered that food retailing was becoming increasingly popular in South Africa and there were fortunes to be made in this sector. He approached the chairman of the company, Norman Herber, and persuaded him to open up a groceries retailer. Impressed with his trained eye for emerging trends in business and the enthusiasm he displayed, Herber founded Checkers, a food retailer and put Raymond at the helm of affairs.
Under Ackerman’s watch, Checkers became profitable almost immediately and soon enough, there were over 85 Checkers outlet spread across the country. He was put in charge of the company’s overall operations, which by now had become very successful. Ackerman, the figure behind the chain’s outstanding success, was widely acknowledged as a visionary business leader and in 1965 he won the Outstanding Young South African award.
Ackerman was making a raving success of the food retailer. But success breeds envy, and before long, the owners of the company showed Ackerman the door. He was fired for no clear reason. The termination of his contract could not come at a worse time – his wife was pregnant with their fourth child.
On the bright side, Ackerman received a generous severance package and he resolved not to surrender to fate. With the money he received from his previous employers and a bank loan, Ackerman bought over four stores in Cape Town which traded under the name ‘Pick‘n’ Pay’. He set to work immediately with a staff strength of 175. He went on to revolutionize South Africa’s retail industry, introducing the country to the concept of a powerful consumer orientation as the overriding first law of store management. Customer satisfaction was a priority, and Ackerman ensured that he provided value goods, presented in an attractive way.
Under Raymond Ackerman’s management, “Pick n Pay” grew from four small stores in Cape Town to 794 stores. Pick ‘n Pay is currently one of South Africa’s pre-eminent FMCG retailers, consisting of over 450 stores including 121 supermarkets and 14 hypermarkets. Operations are in food, clothing, and general merchandise sectors as well as financial services. The company operates throughout South Africa, southern Africa and Australia and employs about 49,000. The Company, which is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, has produced 20-year share price compound growth as at February 2010 of 14.8%, and grew at 14.2% annually compounded over the past decade.
For all the success Ackerman has achieved, he remains unabashedly committed to giving back. In 1970s, Raymond, his wife Wendy and their four children founded the Ackerman Family Educational Trust and endowed the foundation with two per cent of their personal shares. Today, the foundation sponsors over 100 students through Tertiary education in South Africa annually. The foundation also gives to education-focused organizations such as the READ Educational Trust and institutions for mentally and physically handicapped people.
Last March, during his 79th birthday, Raymond handed over the keys to the kingdom to his eldest son, Gareth Ackerman, who will continue to build on the legacy his father had nurtured for the past 40 years.
Even though he retired last year and has just turned 80, there’s no slowing down the man who changed the way South Africans shopped.
In his autobiography, A Sprat to Catch a Mackerel: Key Principles to Build Your Business, he reflected on his time at Pick ‘n’ Pay. He said: “It’s really hard to hand over power and step back. Now that my son Gareth is chairman … I have to learn to listen and resist the temptation to interfere – it’s not always easy … I offer my advice and sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t. I’m just as passionate about the business, and my new role as ambassador for the company has given me the opportunity to go around this country and Australia and meet our people.”