It is such a sad time for the family and for me too insofar as I have known and admired him for the longest time, and being now the oldest surviving Ackerman. Raymond had recovered miraculously well from Covid-19 three years ago, exhibiting once again his indomitable fighting spirit.
Raymond’s mantra was “doing good is good business.” He always knew “retail is detail” hence his focus on the supermarket floor. My father required him to start at the bottom in the 1950s at Ackermans to learn all aspects of the retail business but also to know how to treat customers with courtesy at all times, no matter what the pressures were.
He was always prepared to help all and give advice in a non-intrusive way. He believed in the earlier years that if Pick ‘n Pay had been run purely for profit, like the other chains, its margins could have been nearer theirs. It was indeed ironic that the company bore the brunt of organised labour disruption in the mid-1980s, but he refused to change the company’s benign employee benefits and policies as a result of it. He pioneered the introduction of hypermarkets in the country and was known as a retail revolutionary.
He loved engaging with people about his favourite topics and always found time to listen to others, from the highest to the lowest. He was a perennial optimist about the country’s future even in its darkest days. He had many altercations with the Nationalist government and succeeded in breaking the imposed colour bar by appointing a black manager in a white area and by circumventing the Group Areas Act by granting black employees long-term housing tenure.
In his book ‘Hearing Grasshoppers Jump,’ Raymond acknowledged my GSB Technical Report’s [thesis] contribution in the successful development of Pick ‘n Pay. I only decided on the topic of floating the company on the JSE as my first ‘too theoretical and derivative’ attempt was failed by Professor Burmeister and was advised to consider a more practical subject. At the time, it was unheard of for such a new company, with only four stores, to be listed without a minimum three-year profit record. It turned out to be a key strategic move because if he listed and received funds to expand away from Cape Town, the 1969 stock market crash would have stopped him from being able to garner the necessary funds for many years. The funds enabled him to expand and not be priced out of the market by competitors.
He was a devoted family man and loved sports of all kinds, but especially golf at Clovelly which our father had founded in the 1930s and subsequently became under Raymond’s chairmanship, the first non-racial golf club in the country. He took great pride in the subsequent success of students who enrolled at the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development at the GSB. He also lectured at it and attended the graduation ceremonies.
A giant tree has fallen but I take comfort in his legacy for South Africans in so many ways – both in business and philanthropy.
The Raymond Ackerman Academy
For many years, the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development (RAA) was situated at the GSB and has helped over one thousand young people gain business skills and knowledge. The RAA works with young people between the ages of 18 and 30 by putting them through an intense six-month programme. We talked to Gcobisa Maqanda who was part of the 2013 cohort and is now Programme Co-ordinator of the GSB Solution Space.
What did you most appreciate about the opportunity RAA gave you?
What I most appreciated about the RAA opportunity was the valuable skills and insights that were directly applicable to both my personal growth and entrepreneurial journey. And those skills and insights have opened doors within the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
What was it about Raymond himself that you valued?
I had the opportunity to meet him and was nominated by the class to present him with a gift. Mr A, as we'd refer to him, was deeply committed to social duty and making a positive difference in the community. A very humble man who lived a basic life, but what made him remarkable to me was his belief that "doing good" for others and paying it forward is vital, which I have practised and will continue to do.