Combative Sean Summers is back at Pick ‘n Pay – Gareth Ackerman appoints group’s ex-CEO in masterful coup

By Alec Hogg

Fifteen years after leaving the company he ran for over a decade, 70-year-old master retailer Sean Summers is returning to lead Pick ‘n Pay. Under Summers’ guidance, the company enjoyed undisputed leadership of the sector now dominated by rival Shoprite.

The appointment is a bold move by chairman Gareth Ackerman, who was recently in the headlines after coming out strongly against Pretoria’s mismanagement of the economy. His forthright approach is reminiscent of the many battles his late father Raymond had with SA’s Government, especially during the group’s formative years.

Eight years after leaving Pick n Pay in 2007, Summers returned to retailing after being hired by Steinhoff to run its 450-store UK beds and furniture business. His clashes with Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste during a turbulent two years with the failed corporation became the stuff of in-house legend, especially after Jooste lashed out during a board meeting where Summers questioned his approach.

Although Summers stayed on at Steinhoff, he remained pretty much in the background until Jooste left. The new managers charged him with settling down the group’s biggest asset, the US-based Mattress Firm, which Summers bedded down successfully through extremely difficult circumstances.

In an interview in London in September 2015, Summers expressed his deep respect for Pick n Pay founder Raymond Ackerman, with whom he worked for 33 years, 11 as CEO. The industry will expect a very different Pick n Pay under Summers’ leadership.

As he said during that interview: “I always liken retail to hand-to-hand combat. It is. There are fixed bayonets in the trenches every day, and it’s real warfare. When we ran the company, we were very much of that mindset.”

Click here to access the audio and transcript of that in-depth interview with Summers.

Here’s the full announcement from Pick n Pay, released at 8am this morning:

SEAN SUMMERS TO RETURN AS PICK N PAY CEO

Pick n Pay announced today that Pieter Boone is stepping down as Group CEO and will be replaced by Sean Summers. Sean returns to the Group following a previous, highly successful, tenure as CEO between 1999 and 2006. Pieter will assist Sean through a short handover period.

Chairman Gareth Ackerman commented: 

“I want to thank Pieter for his dedication to Pick n Pay over the past two-and-a-half years.  He became our CEO while the Covid pandemic was still raging, and has led the business through some extraordinary challenges, including the transition out of the Covid lockdown, the unprecedented civil unrest in 2021, and the current loadshedding crisis. Despite this, he devised and led the launch of our Ekuseni strategic plan, overseeing the very pleasing acceleration of our Boxer, Clothing and Omnichannel growth engines, and launching our new QualiSave brand.

“Unfortunately, in a very difficult environment, the performance of our core Pick n Pay business has been very challenging over the past months, and has not met expectations. Pieter accepts that the Board has decided on a change in leadership. He leaves us with our heartfelt thanks and best wishes for the future.”

Sean Summers will take over as Group CEO, with a goal to turn around the performance of the Group’s Pick n Pay Retail core engine, while ensuring the continued success of the Group’s growth strategies. He will also prioritise an effective handover plan to the next generation of leadership in the company. 

Sean Summers worked previously for the Group between 1974 and 2007, rising to become Managing Director in 1996, and CEO in 1999. He left the Group in 2007. During his tenure, Pick n Pay was the clear grocery market leader in South Africa. The late Raymond Ackerman described Sean as ”an excellent leader, who achieved remarkable things at Pick n Pay”. 

Gareth Ackerman commented:

“We are delighted that Sean is coming back to Pick n Pay. His knowledge and experience is unrivalled. He is passionate about getting Pick n Pay back on to the right trajectory, and winning the trust and confidence of customers new and old. He is absolutely the right person for the job at this time. 

“Sean is an inspirational leader. He will galvanise our teams, energise them to give everything for our customers, and delight the communities we serve.”

Sean Summers said:

“I am very excited to be coming home to Pick n Pay. Retailing is my passion, and this company is in my blood. I have great excitement and energy for the task ahead. 

“I am looking forward tremendously to meeting our teams up and down the country. We are in this together, and we will succeed together. 

“I enjoyed the most extraordinary years, working with the late Raymond Ackerman, and we retained a deep personal relationship to the end. The best way I can honour Raymond and Wendy’s legacy is to put Pick n Pay back onto its rightful path to growth and success. I worked closely with Gareth for many years, and we will make a great team together.”

Read also:

Visited 15,798 times, 7 visit(s) today