Ackerman: even big businesses face small business challenges [U-Start Africa]

Gareth Ackerman

Gareth Ackerman may be the scion of one of South Africa’s most prominent business families but he has his own retail entrepreneurship story that spans many, many years. Hilariously enough it started with him telling the audience at the U-Start Conference in Cape Town that due to a “bender” on his grandfather’s part, the boat to France and the Battle of Delville Wood was missed and his family ended up flourishing in South Africa. Thank goodness for that — as one delegate put it on Twitter: Listening to billions. Gareth Ackerman.

One of the first points Ackerman made was around having a focused aim, making a difference and sticking to your morals. While that actually sounds like three different pieces of advice, it isn’t – at least not in this context.

He really means that you choose a way of doing business, one that you can stick to in difficult and confusing times. This, according to him, is what got him and his family through some of the tough times that Pick ‘n Pay has faced and is something that those starting businesses need to do too. A similar concept to an inner business compass, perhaps.

Adding to this advice, Ackerman said that having been approached by many people with business ideas, he believed in getting to the ‘no’.

“If you don’t want something as a business person, you need to get to the ‘no’ quickly, otherwise you waste people’s time and money”. He went on to say that one should state it clearly and move on.

Ackerman also told the story of how Raymond Ackerman, his father and founder of the Pick n Pay empire, was pushed out of Checkers’ parent company Greatermans in 1966 because he came back from a trip to America with new ideas about ‘supermarkets’ that his colleagues were not ready to hear. New, creative ideas often come from those under 30, he said, which is why it’s important to listen to your young employees.

The final take-home words from Ackerman were that: “The worst decision you can make as a business owner is not to make a decision at all.” He told the watching entrepreneurs that once they have employees, they should not to give them grief for making the wrong decision, but rather for procrastinating and not making a decision at all.

Ackerman is a stalwart in the business scene in South Africa and listening to his talk and advice was one of the highlights of the U-Start Cape Town 2014 Conference. He is positive about South Africa and had a wealth of information about how to not only lead a blue-chip, listed company, but also keep the mindset of small business entrepreneur.



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