Business Day (Johannesburg)

South Africa: Ackerman Retires But Keeps Hand in

Johannesburg — PICK n Pay executive chairman Raymond Ackerman has officially retired from the business he started 43 years ago and handed the reins to his elder son, Gareth.

But few who have had even a passing association with the man will be surprised that he has already found himself a part-time job - as roving ambassador to the group's 700 or so stores. "I probably won't be able to visit them all," he said with more than a hint of regret.

Ackerman, 79, insists he has no intention of breathing over the shoulders of either his successor - who will fulfil a more conventional nonexecutive function - or CEO Nick Badminton.

In fact, he and his wife, Wendy, who has also stepped down from the Pick n Pay board but will stay on at head office to complete a number of corporate responsibility projects, have booked a holiday to avoid getting in anyone's hair during the transition.

Addressing a farewell function for the media he has consistently charmed over the years, Ackerman said yesterday he did not doubt for a moment that Pick n Pay would continue to espouse his consumer sovereignty philosophy, which is based on "putting customers before profits".

Insisting that he has nothing but respect for his old rival, Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson - "Whitey really is a good operator" - Ackerman nevertheless could not resist a little dig, pointing out that he has never had any ambition to make a 5% operating margin, the unprecedented level Shoprite announced in its last financial results.

Pick n Pay's operating margin has traditionally been about 3%-3,5%, and Ackerman said if it gets much higher than that in future "we should cut prices".

He is upbeat on the outlook for both Pick n Pay and SA, saying the signs are there that the country is emerging from recession. His personal leading indicators are Pick n Pay's chicken sales, which have started rising again, and new memberships at his Clovelly golf club, which are also on the up.

Ackerman lamented the demise of large family-owned businesses in SA: "I happen to be a great believer in family-controlled businesses. There aren't enough of them around any more."

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