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My Journey with Pick n Pay & Raymond Ackerman & the Lessons Learnt.

It was in early 1980 when my journey started with one of the biggest retailers in South Africa. My late husband then worked for the retailer for about 8 or 9 years already and successfully climbed the ladder into Junior Management as a Fruit & Veg Department Supervisor. Pick n Pay was one of the first corporate businesses at the time that allowed people of colour in management positions which was taboo at the time as this was still in the apartheid era. A position was advertised internally for a Consumer Advisor (Now Customer Service Managers) for the new store to be opened in Mitchells Plain. I loved the idea of looking after the retailer's customers and decided to apply for the position. To my surprise and happiness, I was successful and I started with great vigour, proudness of my achievement and of course working for a corporate company that looks well after their staff reporting directly to Cecily Morkel & Wendy Ackerman.

I trained in Sea Point, Kenilworth, & Gardens Centre which I thoroughly enjoyed. Continuous training by PnP suppliers was the norm to learn all about the products the retailer stocked. From learning how cheese is made to how to communicate with clients. It was here that I learnt that the customer is always right and the customer is king! From a once a month pensioners tea for aged customers, to engaging with customers on a daily basis to what their needs were and how we can improve their shopping experience. I created a big box for clients to pop in their complaints or their positive experience in the store and this was a great help for me as the mouthpiece to store and head office management. I worked for PnP for a few years and even had shares awarded to us by Mr Ackerman. Unfortunately 9pm store hours were introduced and as a young mother, I found it very difficult because I had small children and didn't like the idea of them being without a mother & father at home until late at night. I decided to leave with great sadness.

13 years later in 1993 I started my own property services business. Times were rough & tough divorced with 3 small children to educate & feed but I saw a better future and a better life for them ahead and I was determined to succeed. I struggled to get business & especially to access opportunities within corporates. Networking & marketing was my strength. I attended every networking event as an opportunity to market my company and get contracts. It was very difficult even to access opportunities within PnP at the time. About 4 or 5 years later I decided to attend a networking event where Mr Ackerman was a Keynote Speaker in Tygervalley Centre and asked him why "white" companies were the only companies accessing contracts to clean their stores. He took my business card and promised he would get the General Manager to call me the next day. True to his word Llwellyn Dyers called me the next day to make an appointment for me to come and see him. I was given an opportunity to tender for the services and this is how my business journey started with Pick n Pay with Mr Ackerman giving me the opportunity to offer services for Pnp & Mr Ackerman and his daughter Suzanne Ackerman who is at the helm of the company's transformation portfolio. Today PnP is still one of my biggest clients and they continue to support me and my business. Through the years I have been taught many good lessons from reading Mr Ackerman's books and have applied it to my business. It definitely does work.

Here are some of the lessons learnt in business from him.

  1. Passion - The Most Vital Ingredient of All. Owning a business is relentless. No matter how successful you become, as the owner you cant ever rest up and say, Ive made it. So in the end, the essential difference between the success and failure of an enterprise is the level of passion you bring to it.

  2. When in doubt, rely on the "7 tried & True - What, Where, Why, When, which, How and Who. Entrepreneurs are neither born nor made, You may have certain innate instincts that will incline you towards entrepreneurial enterprise, but frankly a lot depends on outside influences, and how you choose to respond to them. Certainly if you are the kind of person who constantly looks for better, more efficient ways of doing things - be it working conditions, service delivery or manufacturing processes - then you have what is probably the key characteristics of a good entrepreneur. This is "the vision" that people always refer to when talking about entrepreneurs: not just the ability to save or make more money, but to keep looking at new ways of doing things and finding alternate ways to give people what they need.

  3. Life is too short to spend the better part of it stuck in a hole-in-the-wall existence. If a business doesn't suit you, get out and start again. Building 4 balanced legs for your table - A business model of Mr Ackerman that really works. The four legs - interdependent, depending on each other support your business are:

a Administration - everything from stocktaking to accounting

b Merchandise - the product/s or services offered

c PR/Social Responsibility/Marketing (the community you serve)

d .People - Your employees

4. Delegate does not mean abdicate - Hiring experts to help you with legs in which you are weak does not mean relinquishing control. At the end of every day you need to draw up a quick mental balance sheet, asking yourself whether you have given each leg enough of your time. If you have spent the entire day meeting with clients and customers, make sure you set aside enough time the following day to deal with your staff concerns, going over the actual merchandise or service operation with them. Don't ignore your accounts for more than a week, and make regular meetings with your accountant or book keeper. The point is even after you have "outsourced" certain tasks, the buck still stops with you - you need to keep measuring the legs to ensure that they are of equal strength and thus well balanced. Because without balance your business will eventually fall down like a house of cards.

5. Pricing - A Tricky Business. Putting a value on Your Product or Service. "Never confuse turnover with profit" Pricing is a very tricky business. It is a question that comes up time and again : how do you know what prices to charge? Well, you don't really. A lot of it is guess work. Start by knowing what your competitors charge. Then make an educated guess at your projected turnover. Look carefully at all your expenses and determine what percentage these will be of your projected sales. I remember as a Consumer Advisor we had to go the the competition retail stores and make notes of their prices and bring it back to the store manager.

These are but some of the tips I learnt from working for PnP and reading his books like, The Four Legs of the Table, Hearing Grasshoppers Jump & A Sprat to Catch a Mackerel - Key Principals to build your business. Thank you Mr Ackerman for your support all these years and for passing the baton to your daughter Suzanne who has proven to be a trailblazer in the empowerment of women!

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