retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

It is being reported that in South Africa, the government is celebrating "20 years of freedom" and the end of apartheid there by recognizing the contributions of a number of citizens who, as one local press story put it, "contributed in the struggle against the apartheid regime and the betterment of the country," recognizing "the contributions made by individuals towards building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa in various ways."

Among them: Raymond Ackerman, the founder of Pick n Pay, the South African supermarket chain, "who was awarded the Order of the Boabab, which recognises those who contributed to community service, business and economy, science, medicine and technological innovation, for providing scholarships to young people and conducting socially responsible retail business."

To say that Ackerman is a socially conscious businessman is an understatement. He is a man who bucked against South Africa's apartheid policies out of an innate sense of decency. He hired black people as managers in his stores, and provided them with housing at a time when they were prevented from owning their own homes. Ackerman ran as color-blind a business as was possible during those years, and was deeply committed to fundamental changes in governmental policies.

I met Raymond Ackerman back in the early nineties. I'm not entirely sure, but I think it was during the years between the time Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and when the new constitution went into effect and Mandela became that nation's first democratically elected president in 1994. But I am sure that it was one of the most memorable meetings I've ever had with a retailer; there was a moral steel about the man that was palpable.

Ackerman stands as evidence, I think, that business does not have to be just about business. in fact, it shouldn't be. As a businessman, he believed fervently that he had a broader responsibility than just making money. Ackerman believed that he had a moral and ethical responsibility to make the his country a better place, and to fundamentally improve the lives of his employees.

That was an Eye-Opening discussion that I had with Raymond Ackerman all those years ago. It makes me happy to see that his contributions - economic and moral - continue to be recognized by a country that, I think, owes him much.
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