This story captures how love, compassion, and forgiveness can combine in a successful business model. Raymond Ackerman, with the support of his wife Wendy, ignored the laws of Apartheid to grow an ethical business. While many families fled South Africa under Apartheid, the Ackermans stayed to leverage their own powers for good. They pioneered breakthrough marketing—insuring that food prices would come down to affordable levels. Raymond and his wife built their company based on merit, not the color of one’s skin. They grew the Pick N Pay from four to 1,200 stores, in six countries with 60,000 employees, 400 franchisees of color and $6 Billion in sales.

Now, Suzanne Ackerman, who is the Director of Transformation, oversees a business incubator that supports entrepreneurs. The Pick N Pay has 100 empowerment projects put in place to stop the cycle of poverty. All the entrepreneurs are fully supported and encouraged to created products that can be sold through the chain of stores. The whole philosophy is based on “doing good is good business.” For once, business is seen in a positive light as an agent of change and an inspiration for us all.

Motivational Background
Rob Schermbrucker (Director/Producer – Slingshot Media)

In 2009, we were facing a global financial crisis and a general economic downturn … it seemed dark and gloomy… depressing even. What we needed was some good news, some inspiration, and my wife and I were desperate to find it, capture it and share it with the nation. At that time, Pick n Pay (South Africa’s leading food chain store, founded by Raymond Ackerman) used the strapline “Inspired by You”. This seemed like a good place to start.

Without a clear directive as to what it actually meant, it left me to interpret through my own filters what it held for me. I am part of a nation of individuals, united only by the fact that we all live together on the piece of dirt at the southern most tip of Africa (conveniently called South Africa) almost 20 years since Nelson Madiba Mandela stepped into his office as president; at the helm of this new democratic country, navigating toward freedom, health and collective happiness- all the while leaving the shores of separation, segregation, anger, hatred, apartheid and ignorance… So at a subconscious level, I guess, that formed part of the meaning for me. I was inspired by the people of this nation and their ability to rise above the historical injustice and present-day circumstance to strive forward and embrace an unknown future clutching the promise of change, reconciliation and freedom.

These ordinary people are the instrumental sample of what is good about our nation, and I believed if I could just tell their stories to the country, the entire nation would be inspired, and it would give them the courage to keep pressing on in the face of adversity. We began our journey looking through the lives touched by the Pick n Pay family- ordinary people who were now doing the seemingly extraordinary. Not only were our eyes opened to the extent of the transformational endeavors being directed by Pick n Pay, but we also saw a glimpse of why it was so important to the Ackerman family. They had been fighting for their consumer for years. They had been fighting forms of injustice for years. They genuinely seemed to care for this nation. Yes, Doing good is good business but “social responsibility” seemed to be in their DNA!

We interviewed person after person who had received an “empowering intervention” of some kind from the Pick n Pay family, and had taken that opportunity and converted it into something that would impact, not only their own lives, but that of their entire community. They all seemed to have this sort of “responsibility DNA” that formed part of their business ideology- using business as a tool to transform their community at some level. We left the project very inspired and extremely intrigued by this “responsibility DNA”. What is it and where does it come from? What motivates these business people to want to change their nation?

What fuels their enthusiasm and wills them to succeed as they transform communities? We started to hear words like love… forgiveness… compassion and began to wonder what they had to do with business?

In this short documentary film we explore what these words and concepts mean for the people who have been significantly shaping their communities and this nation. We will begin to understand that not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be measured, matters. That “doing good is good business” There may be a new, ‘intangible’ triple bottom line to business in this country… and it is possibly, best expressed with words like Love, Forgiveness and Compassion.

The Ackerman Story

1966 was a very bad year for Raymond Ackerman and his native South Africa. The world was preparing to place sanctions on the nation where Apartheid – and the struggle against it – was intensifying.  Ackerman was fired as managing director of 85 Checkers supermarkets.

While the resistance against Apartheid increasingly became violent, Ackerman decided to battle racist segregation, not with guns, but with jobs, access to education and affordable food for poor black Africans, who he treated with dignity, not revulsion. He bought three small Pick n’ Pay supermarkets in Cape Town and with the help of his wife Wendy staged his own economic revolution against the system Afrikaners had installed and enforced to divide people of different racial and ethnic groups.

Ackerman looked around and saw a nation where people of color were forced to give up their land and moved into townships that were little better than internment camps filled with crowded tin or cardboard shacks without running water or toilets. Black men were separated from their families and forced to work in mines for low wages.  Meanwhile, many young white Afrikaner men were forced to either join the police or the military and ordered to carry out countless human atrocities on behalf of their government.  Families were split apart. People of color were forced to carry identifying documents at all times and not allowed to work in white areas.  Intermarriages were outlawed.

The Ackerman revolution was built on his low margin, high volume supermarket chain. For the first time, food became affordable to the poorest communities.

He ignored the laws of Apartheid and established a meritocracy, providing not only jobs but education for numerous people of color, and an opportunity to begin to dream about a more just society.

The Ackermans’ arsenal included compassion, love and forgiveness in a nation short on all three.  When black anger erupted in 1976, and more than 600 people died in confrontations between black protesters and security forces in township uprising that began in Soweto – coming as the United States and other countries began to boycott South African businesses –  many wealthy families fled.

But the Ackermans stood their ground, using their visionary business model to combat the human injustice that made South Africa a pariah in the eyes of the world.  Raymond Ackerman worked against corruption, price fixing, and collusion. He fought the government price controls on everything from bread to petrol. Pick n’ Pay grew by not only challenging the laws of Apartheid, but breaking them, to give people of color a way through and out of a seemingly impossible situation. The Ackermans built hundreds of homes for their staff, and gave 15,000 people scholarships.

This film chronicles Ackerman’s improbable, often dangerous 50-year journey from three small stores to over 1,200 across seven countries, with 60,000 of employees. The chain also grew to $6 Billion in sales. They have seen South Africa go from the most racial divided society on earth to a democracy where people can succeed regardless of race.

Today numerous senior managers at Pick and Pay and over 400 franchisees are people of color.  Now, the Pick and Pay Foundation, led by their daughter Suzanne, supports 95 empowerment projects, all over South Africa, where entrepreneurs are coached and supported to build businesses whose products can be sold through 1200 stores in seven countries of Africa. These businesses often have Afrikaner farmers, and sometimes former policemen, working alongside people of color. All the businesses have social missions. Today South Africa still suffers under a corrupt government and it will take several generations to reverse all the wrong that has been done over these past three centuries. Without forgiveness, compassion and love nothing is possible.