Raymond Ackerman: A South African giant has fallen

Raymond Ackerman, the South African retail tycoon and founder of Pick n Pay has died. He was 92. Picture: Supplied.

Raymond Ackerman, the South African retail tycoon and founder of Pick n Pay has died. He was 92. Picture: Supplied.

Published Sep 8, 2023


Durban — Tributes continue to pour in for businessman and founder of Pick n Pay Raymond Ackerman who died on Thursday at the age of 92.

Ackerman founded Pick n Pay in 1967 along with his wife, Wendy, after buying four stores in Cape Town.

He lived by the core values that the customer is queen, that we must treat others as we would wish to be treated, and that doing good is good business. The Pick n Pay Group has more than 2000 stores across South Africa and seven other African countries.

Raymond Ackerman. Photographer: Tracey Adams

Sibaya Community Trust Fund manager Jane Pillay said her association with him was when she worked at the Durban Chamber of Commerce and invited him to be a keynote speaker at one of the annual dinners.

Pillay said first and foremost Ackerman was a leader who made others feel important and he remained humble when he dealt with people.

“His kind, gentle and accommodating disposition was such a humbling experience. Here I was in communication with the mogul of Pick n Pay and yet it was so refreshing and easy to speak with him, a brilliant mind, allowing me to dictate our needs,” Pillay recalled.

“Ackerman most certainly had our audience in awe and just his presence in the room made us all feel empowered and learn that it was possible to achieve anything we set our minds to.”

Pick n Pay chairman Raymond Ackerman. Picture: Rogan Ward.

One of Ackerman’s celebrated battles was against price regulations that forced people to pay more than they should for their groceries. In 1986, Pick n Pay mounted a successful court challenge against the government’s prohibition of a petrol coupon scheme that gave customers grocery discount coupons with petrol purchases. Pick n Pay fought over 26 rounds with the government on petrol price cutting and lost each time.

Ackerman was about much more than shopping. He was a compassionate employer and a committed philanthropist. Even in the 1960s he was determined to promote all deserving employees to managerial positions, in defiance of apartheid laws.

By the end of the 1970s, he had become active in the newly-established Urban Foundation, becoming a prominent champion of equal opportunity policies and merit-based salaries and wages, and increasingly critical of the government’s homelands policy, the Group Areas Act and job reservation.

But he was also critical of sanctions, in the belief that they destroyed jobs and deepened poverty.

Raymond Ackerman. Photographer: Tracey Adams

In 1989, Ackerman and a group of businessmen met then newly-appointed president FW de Klerk at Pick n Pay’s Cape Town office. The group told De Klerk that Nelson Mandela should be released as soon as possible, and that apartheid legislation should be scrapped.

Ackerman met Mandela on numerous occasions after his release, and the two established a warm relationship.

In 2004, he established the Raymond Ackerman Academy for Entrepreneurial Development in partnership with UCT, which was later joined by the University of Johannesburg. The academy has produced hundreds of new business owners.

The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Ackerman’s visionary leadership and immense contributions to the South African retail landscape left an indelible mark on communities, while his philanthropic endeavours touched the lives of countless individuals.

eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda lauded Ackerman’s contribution to the country’s economy and job creation.

Durban resident Jayanthie Pillay and Raymond Ackerman. Picture: Supplied

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