Raymond Ackerman, born on 10 March 1931, is a celebrated figure in the South African business community. But how did a young graduate evolve into a business titan in the African continent?
Early Life and Career
Raymond Ackerman graduated from the University of Cape Town with a Bachelor of Commerce. His entry into the business world began at Ackermans, a company his father, Gus, had founded after World War I. However, in 1940, the family sold it to the Greatermans group. As a 20-year-old in 1951, Raymond started there as a trainee manager. Eventually, Raymond found himself at Greatermans’ head office in Johannesburg.
With the rise of supermarkets in South Africa in the 1950s, Norman Herber, the chairman of Greatermans, initiated a food retailer named Checkers. Under Raymond’s guidance, Checkers became a great success.
In 1965, Raymond Ackerman was awarded the Outstanding Young South African honor, sharing the accolade with notable figures such as Gary Player. By 1966, 35-year-old Raymond managed 85 Checkers stores. However, the same year saw an unexpected turn in his career when he was dismissed from the company.
The Birth of Pick ‘n Pay
Undeterred, Raymond used his severance pay and secured a bank loan to purchase four stores in Cape Town from Jack Goldin. These stores traded under the name Pick ‘n Pay. Through Raymond’s leadership, Pick ‘n Pay flourished into one of Africa’s largest supermarket chains, boasting over 124 supermarkets, 14 hypermarkets, 179 franchised outlets, and employing more than 30,000 individuals across several African nations by 2006.
A Family Business
Pick ‘n Pay is not just a business empire; it’s a family affair. Wendy, Raymond’s wife, and their children – Suzanne, Kathryn, Jonathan, and Gareth – have all played roles within the company or its affiliated charity. Gareth notably succeeded his father in leadership roles, taking on Raymond’s duties in 2009 and the chairmanship in 2010.
Advocacy and Community Involvement
Raymond was a stalwart advocate for consumer rights. He confronted individuals like Anton Rupert over cigarette prices and took on governmental authorities over bread and gasoline prices. Moreover, Raymond’s ties to community welfare are evident in the Ackerman family’s long-standing support for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, and their involvement in Cape Town’s bid for the 2004 Summer Olympics. To nurture future business leaders, Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development was founded in Cape Town in 2005.
Honors and Recognition
Raymond’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. He received honorary doctorates from Rhodes University in 1986 and from his alma mater, the University of Cape Town, in 2001. Moreover, he was recognized by the Financial Times in 2004 as the only South African among the world’s top 100 business leaders.
Raymond shared his journey and insights through three books:
- Hearing Grasshoppers Jump (2004)
- The Four Legs of the Table (2005)
- A Spat to Catch a Mackerel (2010)
For more on Raymond, readers can refer to features in Die Burger from 2005 and 2010, as well as works by Amelda Gerber that shed light on his entrepreneurial endeavors.