Raymond Ackerman 2002


Described as the doyen of South African business, Raymond Ackerman built a great commercial empire where, no matter how large the company, people are always seen as the biggest asset. 
From humble beginnings - fired in the early days of his career and then buying three small Cape Town supermarkets in 1967 - he grew Pick 'n Pay into a greatly admired retailing giant. Testimony to his status today among South Africa's most respected business leaders, he was recently voted by the public as one of the "100 most influential South Africans" who shaped the 20th century.
Born in Cape Town and educated at Bishops, Mr Ackerman was influenced during his BCom studies at the University of Cape Town by Professor WH Hutt's theories of consumer sovereignty. "He taught me that if you care for customers, they will care for you. At a time when cosy agreements between business and governments were the norm, his exhortations to fight monopolies and cartels struck a chord with me."
Mr Ackerman believes that if he can supply an item to the consumer at a lower price, they have the right to it. His passionate opposition to price regulation has led to him frequently taking up the cudgels on behalf of the consumer. Most notable is his ongoing fight for the deregulation of the petrol industry which has seen several attempts by Pick 'n Pay to discount petrol - and several court battles.
"Even today I retain an idealistic streak. Perhaps my success is based on having my head in the clouds but keeping my feet on the ground. I fervently believe that profits are the bloodstream that keeps any business alive, but they are not the head or heart of any business." He has held fast in the 35 years of Pick 'n Pay's existence to his vision of building a lasting business that is of benefit to all who are touched by its activities - consumers, suppliers, shareholders, contractors and, most important, the staff. By making sure that everything the company does is underpinned by a caring and concerned attitude for others, and a desire to uplift those less fortunate, he believes the company can become a microcosm of an ideal South African society.
Raymond Ackerman started his career with South Africa's first retail chain, Ackerman's, founded by his father and later sold to Greatermans. In 1959, they appointed him to head up Checkers, South Africa's first supermarket, and he embarked on a major expansion drive, opening 85 stores around the country by 1966. Then he was fired - "they told me I was too difficult to get on with". The late Marinus Daling, former CEO of Sanlam, called this "the single greatest error in South African business".
At a low ebb, it took "90 percent guts and 10 percent capital" to buy three small Cape Town stores, called Pick 'n Pay, in 1967. In its first trading year, the company made R310 000 profit on turnover of R5-million. Turnover first topped R1-billion in 1983 and doubled three years later. The staff complement has grown from 250 to over 30 000, and the group now comprises 464 stores locally and internationally, operating under the Pick 'n Pay, Boardman's, Score and RiteValu banners. An entrepreneur and an innovator, Mr Ackerman and Pick 'n Pay are responsible for numerous pioneering concepts in South African retailing, including hypermarkets, generic "no name" brands and in-store banking.
Mr Ackerman has never lost sight of Pick 'n Pay's core purpose - to interpret and satisfy consumer demand - and is convinced that employees are the key to achieving it, because the customer's experience in the stores can only be as good as that of the employees in their workplace. Mr Ackerman was instrumental in the Vuselela (renewal) campaign that re-energised the company in 1996 by re-affirming the value of human dignity and motivating employees, through training and development, to achieve their full potential. 
Always committed to putting something back into the community, in 1999 he and his wife formed the R30-million Raymond & Wendy Ackerman Pick 'n Pay Foundation to strengthen the fabric of South African society by investing in community upliftment programmes, with a particular focus on entrepreneurship, job creation, life skills and self-reliance.
The University of Port Elizabeth is proud to honour Raymond Ackerman for the enterprising spirit and outstanding business sense that built one of South Africa's great companies, and for his passionate commitment to the development and growth of people as the keys both to business success and a better future for South Africa.