Raymond Ackerman (1931–2023)

06 September 2023 | Story Nicole Forrest. Photo UCT News. Read time 4 min.
Raymond Ackerman
Raymond Ackerman

10 March 1931 – 6 September 2023

On 6 September 2023, the world bid farewell to Raymond Ackerman, whose story is a testament to the merits of determination, innovation and philanthropy. The University of Cape Town (UCT) mourns the passing of one of South Africa’s most respected business leaders and a recipient of a 2001 honorary doctorate from UCT.

Ackerman, who passed away at the age of 92, will forever be remembered not only for his remarkable success in the business world but also for his unwavering commitment to nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit in others.

A business giant

Ackerman’s life in business began shortly after he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce with a major in accounting from the University of Cape Town (UCT) where he was influenced by Professor WH Hutt’s theories of consumer sovereignty.

After graduating, Ackerman joined his father, Gus’, clothing store, Ackermans – South Africa’s first retail chain and then part of the Greatermans group. The young businessman’s astute leadership and innovative strategies – driven by the belief that the consumer should be at the centre of all business decisions – propelled the Ackermans brand to new heights.

Following his success at the clothing giant, Ackerman was put in charge of the supermarket chain Checkers, which was at the time also part of the Greatermans group. By the age of 35, he was the managing director of 85 Checkers stores. Unfortunately for Ackerman, although fortunately for South Africa, he was fired from the food retailer in the same year.

With the tenacity and entrepreneurial brilliance that he became famous for, Ackerman used his severance pay and took out a bank loan to buy four food retail stores operating in Cape Town under the name Pick n Pay.

Under his leadership, Pick n Pay would grow to be one of the largest retail chains in Africa, boasting 124 supermarkets, 14 hypermarkets and 179 franchised outlets.

Despite the massive and swift success of the venture, Ackerman remained steadfast in his commitment to serving consumers as well as his dedication to family values. To this day, the retail giant is run as a family business.

A man for the people

Ackerman was a supporter of consumer rights throughout his career. He had numerous run-ins with the apartheid government while lobbying for the creation of an environment in which food was affordable for all South Africans.

He and his family supported the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. This was not only a continuation of Gus’ efforts – who had been involved in the institution’s funding and establishment – but also in the interest of ensuring that Cape Town’s youth would have access to quality healthcare.

In 2004, the businessman established the Raymond Ackerman Academy for Entrepreneurial Development aimed at youth between the ages of 18 to 35, in partnership with UCT and later the University of Johannesburg.

This initiative was a testament to Ackerman’s unwavering belief in the power of education and entrepreneurship to transform lives. The academy has since produced hundreds of new business owners, empowering individuals to realise their dreams and contribute to the economic growth of South Africa.

A legacy of empowerment and inspiration

Ackerman’s passing leaves a void in the business community and in the hearts of those who knew him. However, his legacy lives on, inspiring generations of entrepreneurs to strive for excellence, embrace innovation and make a difference in their communities.

The establishment of the Raymond Ackerman Academy for Entrepreneurial Development remains a shining example of his commitment to nurturing the next generation of business leaders.

His commitment to quality and community engagement endeared him to customers across South Africa and beyond. His legacy as a successful businessman is an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and a testament to the fact that ethical business practices and a genuine concern for customers can lead to long-lasting success.

South Africa and the global business community will forever remember him as a visionary, entrepreneur, philanthropist and a true champion of entrepreneurship and education.

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