“You need to be proactive. You need to say ‘where do I fight my battles?’“

Gareth Ackerman is not only the chairman of the iconic South African Pick n Pay retail group, he is also the son of its equally iconic founder, Raymond Ackerman. Ackerman senior, who was enterprising and hard working, had no qualms about putting his 10 year old son to work in the aisles of his stores in the afternoons after school. As a result, one or two of Gareth Ackerman’s most vivid business lessons in fact occurred before he even attended university, let alone once he had graduated and entered the family business. In the process of this informal part of his education Gareth Ackerman also inherited his father’s passion for the business of retailing and its interconnection with the communities that it serves.

After graduating, Ackerman’s father sent him to Florida in the USA to do a 3 month internship. When asking his father why he had chosen this specific company, he learnt that this company had just come out of bankruptcy – in fact the USA’s biggest bankruptcy at that point. Needless to say this was a learning experience second to none, but the undaunted Ackerman junior was subsequently offered a permanent job by that company and then spent 2 years experiencing exactly the kind of outdated retailing with which he didn’t want to be involved. Fortunately that was when Pick n Pay offered him the opportunity to go to Australia in the role of operations manager, as they ventured for the second time into that country.

What was in store for Ackerman, was another challenge involving a company that was going bust. If trying to implement structured, up to date marketing in a resistant company (while walking the streets in a 3 piece suit in the steamy heat of Florida) was challenging, getting caught in a war between two big retailers in an Australian duopoly was highly instructive for Ackerman.

In this Quick Insight, extracted from a full length video interview, Gareth Ackerman shares the fascinating story of Pick n Pay’s second Australian chapter, along with some of the tactics that he learnt the hard way during his time there, and the benefits of proactively picking your business battles.

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