South African business giant Raymond Ackerman (92) has passed away

From Tamra Capstick-Dale:

It is with profound sadness that we announce the death at the age of 92 of visionary South African, and founder of Pick n Pay, Raymond Ackerman.  He is survived by his wife, Wendy, children Gareth, Kathy, Suzanne, and Jonathan, his 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Raymond Ackerman founded Pick n Pay in 1967 along with Wendy after buying four stores in Cape Town.  From the outset, he lived by the core values that the customer is queen, that we must treat others as we would wish to be treated, and that doing good is good business.  These values have guided the business for over 56 years, and today the Pick n Pay Group serves millions of customers in more than 2,000 stores across South Africa and seven other African countries. His business philosophy was underpinned by the “four legs of the table” (Administration, Social responsibility and Marketing, People, and Merchandise, with the customer on top) first introduced to Ackerman by Bernard Trujillo in the US.

He came from a retailing family with his father having founded Ackermans after World War 1.

From the very beginning, Raymond Ackerman was dedicated to giving customers the best possible products, the best possible value, and the best possible service in his stores.  He would stop and ask customers walking home with shopping bags from rival stores why they had not shopped at Pick n Pay.

People quickly learned that they could always rely on Raymond Ackerman and Pick n Pay to be on the customer’s side, for example in his celebrated battles against price regulations which forced people to pay more than they should for their groceries.  In 1986, Pick n Pay mounted a successful court challenge against the government’s prohibition of a petrol coupon scheme which gave customers grocery discount coupons with petrol purchases. Pick n Pay fought over 26 rounds with the government on petrol price cutting and lost each time.

However, Raymond Ackerman was about much more than shopping. He was a compassionate employer and a committed philanthropist.  Even in the1960s, he was determined to promote all employees to managerial positions, in defiance of apartheid laws which forbade it.

By the end of the 1970s, he had become active in the newly-established Urban Foundation, becoming a prominent champion of equal opportunity policies and merit-based salaries and wages, and increasingly critical of government’s homelands policy, the Group Areas Act and Job Reservation.  But he was also critical of sanctions, in the belief that they destroyed jobs and deepened poverty.

In 1989, Raymond Ackerman and a group of businessmen met newly appointed President FW de Klerk in Pick n Pay’s Cape Town office.  The group told De Klerk that Nelson Mandela should be released as soon as possible, and that apartheid legislation should be scrapped. 

Ackerman met Nelson Mandela on numerous occasions after his release, and the two established a warm relationship.

Ackerman was the driving force behind the bid to bring the 2004 Olympic Games to Cape Town, dedicating considerable energy and funding to the initiative.

In 2004, he established the Raymond Ackerman Academy for Entrepreneurial Development in partnership with UCT, which was later joined by the University of Johannesburg. The Academy has produced hundreds of new business owners, many of them offering employment to others, while well over 400 of its graduates are now actively employed.

Over the years, Raymond Ackerman was honoured by many institutions for his services to both business and society.

In their retirement from the board of Pick n Pay Stores Limited in 2010, Raymond and Wendy became Honorary Life Presidents. He maintained an active interest in Pick n Pay and his philanthropy projects .

A product of Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town, he was President and then the patron of the Old Diocesan Union. He received seven honorary doctorates from local and international universities.

Raymond Ackerman was an avid and at one stage a scratch golfer, and was especially close to the Clovelly Golf Club, which his father founded and which was the first non-racial golf club in South Africa. He regularly watched all the golf majors and much sport on TV.

He was a devoted father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Raymond Ackerman was a man of the people; never too busy or too proud to make time for others.

He remained humble throughout his life, and passionate about building a more just future for South Africa.

He was an enduring optimist about South Africa’s future, and his passing leaves a great void for us all.

Read more: Premium: some of best solutions are the simplest – PnP’s Gareth Ackerman delivers a peach

BIOGRAPHICAL SUMMARY

Pick n Pay founder Raymond David Ackerman was an indomitable champion of consumer sovereignty and a profoundly decent man, whose humane convictions set him against the business and political establishment of his day.

He carved a place in South African history by reshaping the retail sector in the image of the customer and rallying organised business in opposition to apartheid.

He waged a relentless campaign against the monopolies and price cartels that characterised commercial practice in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970, winning lower prices for household staples while changing the face of food retail with constant innovation.

He was a dogged opponent of racial discrimination, and ingeniously circumvented apartheid policy where he could, while agitating for its abolition.

Born in Cape Town in 1931, he was the son of Ackermans clothing group founder, Gus Ackerman, and was educated at Diocesan College (Bishops) and the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he developed the social conscience that was to characterise his career.

It was as a Bachelor of Commerce student that he learnt about the dangers of monopolistic practices and cartels, and the primacy of the customer in economic relations.

These principles were quickly applied when, aged 20, he joined Ackermans as a trainee manager in 1951.

When the Ackermans group was bought by competitor Greatermans, Ackerman accepted a position in Johannesburg and persuaded the company to invest in modern supermarkets. In 1955, he was put in charge of launching the Checkers supermarkets and made a resounding success of the venture. By 1966, at the age of 35, he was the managing director of 85 Checkers stores.

It was during his period with Greatermans that Ackerman and his wife Wendy visited America, where he met Bernardo Trujillo, who was running the NCR Modern Merchandising Methods Programme. It was from Trujillo that he learnt the analogy of the ‘four legs of the table’ that informed his business career for the next 50 years.  This held that business is like a table supported by four legs on top of which the consumer sits. Each leg – administration, merchandising, social responsibility, and people – must be equally strong for the table to remain balanced and upright.

In 1966, Ackerman was fired by the Greatermans Group for wanting to lower prices for customers.  Using his two weeks’ severance pay, a bank loan, a modest inheritance, and shares purchased by friends, Ackerman bought four small stores in Cape Town trading under the name Pick ‘n Pay for R620 000.

Almost immediately, Ackerman launched the first of his many campaigns against monopolies and price-fixing, instantly earning the animosity of competitors and the loyalty of his customers.

In September 1968, Pick n Pay went public and was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

In the following year, Ackerman moved to promote black employees to managerial positions, in contravention of then-apartheid legislation, appointing Pick n Pay’s first black manager in his Rondebosch store. It took a personal approach to then-prime minister John Vorster to persuade the government to turn a blind eye to this step, and ignore the provisions of the Group Areas Act and Job Reservation Act.

By the early 1970s, Ackerman was engaged in increasingly acrimonious battles with rival retailers and suppliers as he continued to cut prices. He also introduced the hypermarket concept to South Africa. The first hypermarket was opened in 1975 in Boksburg, where he immediately faced a boycott by big-name suppliers who did not want their products sold at the low prices which Ackerman wanted to offer.

Ackerman’s well-documented ‘petrol war’ began in 1975, by which time he was already selling discounted petrol at the Boksburg Hypermarket – albeit through a legal ruse that was almost certainly unlawful.

By the end of the decade, events in the country were driving Ackerman to adopt a higher-profile political position as he became active in the newly-established Urban Foundation. He became a prominent champion of equal opportunity policies and merit-based salaries and wages, and increasingly critical of the government’s homelands policy, the Group Areas Act and Job Reservation. But he was also critical of sanctions, in the belief that they destroyed jobs and deepened poverty.

In 1978, Ackerman scored a singular personal victory when he persuaded then Prime Minister Vorster to introduce 99-year leasehold rights for black African employees in urban areas. As a consequence, Pick n Pay was able to introduce an assisted company housing scheme for its growing number of black employees. It was in the same year that Ackerman also persuaded Vorster to allow the Clovelly Golf Club – which had been founded by his father in the 1920s – to become South Africa’s first non-racial golf club.

Ackerman’s first confrontation with then SA Prime Minister PW Botha resulted in his being thrown out of Botha’s office after a discussion about the price of bread for the poor. Ackerman called on other food chains to join Pick n Pay in setting up a private bread subsidy. When this approach failed, Pick n Pay established its own R1 million subsidy scheme, prompting accusations from the government that Ackerman was politicising the issue.

As the government strengthened its determination to remove black people from the cities, evicting residents en masse from squatter settlements, Pick n Pay devised a scheme to organise homes for the company’s lower-paid employees. At the same time, motivated by Ackerman’s exposure to the levels of poverty in South Africa, the Pick n Pay board resolved to slash profit margins on a broad range of foodstuffs and to release R10 million in subsidies to reduce the prices of a wide range of food and other products.

In 1984, Ackerman started funding the Zama Dance School in Gugulethu, which has since provided hundreds of children with their first step towards dancing on the international stage. 

After PW Botha’s Rubicon speech in 1985, a boycott of white shops in the Western Cape led to fresh waves of violence which did not leave Pick n Pay unscathed. It was at this time that Ackerman founded the Business Initiative, an association of business leaders concerned about the tragic consequences of Botha’s speech and determined to accelerate a non-violent reform process.

As the national crisis deepened, Ackerman joined seven other top businessmen in 1986 to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Nelson Mandela and for negotiations with the ANC about the country’s future.

By the late 1980s, Pick n Pay had grown to 12 hypermarkets and 81 supermarkets across South Africa, and Ackerman continued his battles against price fixing, taking on the powerful KWV cartel, which regulated every aspect of wine distribution throughout the country. At the same time, he renewed his efforts to sell discounted petrol and in 1986 Pick n Pay mounted a successful court challenge against the government’s prohibition of a petrol coupon scheme which gave customers grocery discount coupons with petrol purchases at the Boksburg hypermarket.

In 1989, Ackerman and a group of businessmen met newly appointed President FW de Klerk in Pick n Pay’s Cape Town office.  The group told De Klerk that Mandela should to be released as soon as possible, and that apartheid legislation should be scrapped. Ackerman was to request – and be granted – a number of meetings with De Klerk after his celebrated speech of 2 February 1990.

Ackerman was to meet with Mandela on numerous occasions after his release, and the two established a warm relationship.

In 1994, Pick n Pay was hit by the worst strike in its history, characterised by widespread intimidation and violence. A supportive President Mandela contacted Ackerman to offer the services of Labour Minister Tito Mboweni as an independent mediator. The strike was eventually settled after five weeks.

In the aftermath of the strike, with profits dropping, growth stagnating and company morale at a low ebb, Ackerman launched a restructuring project which introduced a wide range of staff incentives and morale-building initiatives. Employee literacy programmes were introduced and Pick n Pay Family Stores were launched to empower black franchise-holders.     

In 2004, Raymond Ackerman established the Raymond Ackerman Academy for Entrepreneurial Development in partnership with UCT, which was later joined by the University of Johannesburg. Well over 1,000 graduates have come through the Academy through the combined programme in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The Academy has produced hundreds of new business owners, many of them offering employment to others, while well over 400 of its graduates are now gainfully employed. The programme has now been centralized in Johannesburg and has expanded to an online offering accessible to students across the continent.

In 2009, he was the founder of the Raymond Ackerman Golf Academy at the Clovelly Country Club, where aside from teaching the discipline and techniques of golf, the youth are provided with access to emotional support and life skills as well as school and homework assistance.

By the time Ackerman finally retired and handed the chairman’s reins to son Gareth, Pick n Pay was operating 20 hypermarkets and 402 supermarkets across South Africa, while group turnover stood at almost R50-billion.

Today, Pick n Pay has over 2000 stores throughout South Africa and beyond.

Over the years, Ackerman was honoured by numerous institutions for his services to business and corporate social responsibility.

Raymond Ackerman leaves his wife, Wendy, four children, twelve grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Wendy Ackerman has played an integral role in both her husband’s life and the development and growth of Pick n Pay.

Read more: PnP’s Gareth Ackerman to SA Govt: “Catch a wakeup, times have changed”

AWARDS

1965                     FOYSA Award – One of the Four Outstanding Young South Africans

1970                     IMM Marketing Man of the Year

1975                     Management’s Businessman of the Year

1983                     Financial Mail Man of the Year

1986                     Rhodes University Honorary Doctor of Law

1987                     Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow

1988                     Women’s Bureau of SA – The Men of the Decade (1of 10)

1993                     Advertising Age International – One of the World’s Top 40 Marketing Superstars

1994                     Afrikaans Sakekamer Businessman of the Year

1994                     The Argus Businessman of the Year

1994                     Herald Times Business Achiever of the Year

1996                     Indian Academy of SA Outstanding Business Leadership

1997                     PMR/FMCG Most Admired Personality

1998                     Union of Orthodox Synagogues Honoured for PnP range of Kosher products

1998                     Lois Volks Humanitarian Award

1999                     Lions International Melvin Jones Fellow

1999                     PMR – Golden Arrow Award Most Admired Individual

2000                     PMR – Golden Arrow Award Most Admired Individual

2000                     IMM Millennium Achievement Award

2000                     One of the 100 most influential South Africans to have shaped the 20th century

                                – public survey

2001                     SA Council of Shopping Centres Pioneer Award

2001                     Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow

2001                     Association of Marketers Protea Award

2001                     Sunday Times Lifetime Achievement Award

2001                     UCT Honorary Doctor of Economics Sciences

2002                     University of PE Honorary Doctor of Commerce

2002                     Lions International Citizen of the Year 2001-2002

2003                     Western Cape Provincial Honors Order of the Disa

2004                     IPM Award for the Development of People

2004                     Financial Times/Price Waterhouse Cooper – The only South African amongst the                                                  World’s Top 100 Most Respected Businessmen

2005                     JNF Tribute to Raymond and Wendy Ackerman in honour of their Business and Social                                        Commitment to SA

2006                     DTI Award – Lifetime Achievement Award for consumerism

2007                     PMR Western Cape Outstanding Contribution to Economic Growth

2007                     Inyatelo Philanthropy Award to the Ackerman Family

2008                     Woodrow Wilson International Award for Corporate Citizenship

2009                     University of KwaZulu-Natal Honorary Doctorate of Commerce

2010                     Topco Media Lifetime Achievement Award

2010                     Civic Honours Award from the City of Cape Town

2010                     ABSA Jewish Awards Helen Suzman Lifetime Achievement

2011                     University of SA Honorary Doctorate of Education

2011                     CNBC Africa Business Leaders Award Lifetime Achievement

2011                     Ask Africa Barometer Most Trusted Business Leader in SA

2013                     World Retail Congress Africa Lifetime Achievement Award

2013                     African World Federation of Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award

2014                     Presidential Award of the Order of the Baobab – Silver

2014                     ACE – Master Mentor in Entrepreneurship Award

2014                     Free Market Foundation – 7th Luminary Award

2014                     The Harry Brews Award – For selfless contribution to the improvement and growth of the game of golf

2014                     The National Disability Champion Award 2014

2015                     Honorary Doctorate Bar-Ilan University in Israel

2016                     Honorary doctorate Rutgers University Camden Philadelphia – USA

2016                     Lifetime Achiever award from Regenesys Business School – Sandton, Gauteng

2017                     Lifetime Achiever award – SA Development Community “South” awards

2018                     The Ellen Kuzwayo Award from the University of Johannesburg

2019                     Reach for a Dream Lifetime Achievement Award (Mr and Mrs Ackerman)

2022                     Amy Biehl Foundation Ubuntu Award (Mr and Mrs Ackerman)

HONORARY DOCTORATES

1.       Rhodes University – 1986

2.       UCT – 2001

3.       University of Port Elizabeth – 2002

4.       University of KwaZulu-Natal – 2009

5.       UNISA – 2011

6.       Bar-Ilan University – 2015

7.       Rutgers University – 2016

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