The man who brought global super marketing principles to South Africa has died. Raymond Ackerman bought four small Cape Town stores from entrepreneur Jack Goldin after being fired as MD of Checkers by owners, the Greatermans Group which wanted him to raise grocery profit margins to those of clothing.
He had two weeks’ severance pay, a bank loan, a small inheritance, and shares bought by friends. He took his brother-in-law into negotiations, intending to pay R580 000 for the business and in the early hours and much pushing in the early hours, Ackerman in frustration agreed to pay R620 000.
“My brother-in-law kicked my ankle so hard under the table that it still hurts on cold days,” he told me.
Goldin went on to start Clicks and Ackerman built a considerable retail empire which lost its dominance as its focus moved beyond South Africa on two failed ventures in Australia. That opened the gap for Whitey Basson and Christo Wiese to expand the Shoprite Group and Woolworths to supersede Pick n Pay at the top of grocery in South Africa.
The country owes Raymond Ackerman a great debt of gratitude, not only for revolutionising shopping, but taking on a monopolistic state.
“I went to see PW Botha after government doubled the price of bread. He got so angry with me, grabbed me by the lapels of my jacket screaming in my face…I stayed calm and when he took a breathe I said to him: Let me go Mr Botha, I pay your taxes. And he did.”
Raymond Ackerman was a wily operator. Long before Jeff Bezos created Amazon with his “relentless” obsession on the customer and data, Ackerman was pushing trolleys to customers cars, picking their brains about what could be better. He built his reputation on putting the customer at the centre of his world, all the while harvesting data the old fashioned way.
He gave me some time a couple of years ago to pick his extraordinary brain. Here is my favourite insight, all about the power of humility.