“How do we do well by doing good?” This was the focus of the Green Team event at Spier of our previously local, but now national, leading waste minimisation company, WastePlan. During these events educational topics of interest are discussed and presented to anyone interested in learning more.
Not many people know that the original idea for the Green Times newspaper was born during a conversation between WastePlan CEO, Bertie Lourens (photographed, right), and myself, some 3 years ago. I was writing a green column in a local newspaper and was punting recycling all the time. We shared the vision of business-for-good and so created the plan to share recycling stories to educate, empower and help people conserve our environment in a dedicated publication. Plus of course other environmental stories too, but recycling was my first love. Since I felt that responsible waste management and recycling was the first practical contribution that an urban conserver can make, I worked in the field.
Wanting to do good does not always mean you have to create an NGO and hope for funding. This was a model I considered very carefully, but we opted for a more sustainable model. I believed that the future was green. If we could illustrate how green business can benefit the socio-environmental fibre of our society, then we could truly have a lasting impact on our world. We needed to create a model based on integrity and passion for the earth, as well as feed our families and make the world better all in one integrated business, modelled on nature. This was the vision that inspired me and other green entrepreneurs.
A special business coach
I also knew that Bertie had learnt a lot from his very special business coach – none other than the grandfather of supermarket retail in the country; Raymond Ackerman, affectionately known as ‘Oom Raymond,’ retired founder of Pick n Pay.
He was also the speaker at this event. Oom Raymond was there to tell us how he’d managed to build a small family business into an empire which employs 40 000 staff today, whilst ‘fighting for Mrs Household.’ An audience of green business owners sat spellbound listening to this respected business elder, whilst perhaps adapting some of the concepts to our current environment and green principles.
Oom Raymond was fired from his first job for refusing to fix prices and having too many creative ideas. A principle matter cost him his job, and principles still drive him today. A man whom he had treated well in the past, offered him his first 4 stores of his own – some 40 years ago. Young Raymond, whose wife was pregnant with their fourth child, had no money to purchase these stores. So he convinced 40 friends and family members to pitch in and invest in his business. Today this supermarket giant employs 40 thousand staff members.
Gems from 40 years in business
Looking back over 40 years in business, Uncle Raymond shared some of the principles that steered him towards success:
- “No matter what, we were fighting for Mrs Household, our clients. Her needs came first.”
- “Your lowest paid staff should be as passionate about your business as top management.”
- “Always give more than you receive – give to those who can’t give back.”
- “We are living in the years of folly. Business is not looking after people or the environment properly.”
- “A public company must regulate social responsibility, profit and sustainability. This is our three-pronged approach. Many don’t.”
- He told many stories about clients being treated like friends – eg. when they get ill in the stores, they are taken home, or to hospital. One client even had a meal cooked for her at home.
- “If you keep your ear close to the ground and let the grasshoppers jump in, you can never go wrong.” So, constant innovation and adaptation.
- “Business is not about maximising profits. Doing good is good business.”
- “The more you give, the more you get back. It’s building morality into your business. It defines you in a totally different way.”
- “For merchandise you must remember Marilyn Monroe: it must be desirable, openly displayed and readily accessible.”
- “You can never be a king when prices are going down, it’s when they’re going up and you keep them down that you stand out. We always bought merchandise forward to keep prices stable, like bread (which he got fired for).”
- “Stay away from unions. We pioneered them – they attack us more than others. The high trees catch the most wind.”
- “Look after your staff’s housing, schools, health and children.”
- “Never change your values, but always change your business.”
- “You need 10% capital and 90% guts.”
- “Passion and belief in the country is essential – look at the positives.”
- “A sad soul can kill you quicker than a germ.” John Steinbeck
- “If you want to gain anything, you must be prepared to risk everything.”
- “It takes the will of a few to change the mindset of the masses.”
Mr Ackerman’s corporation has also helped establish 350 franchise stores across the country, of which 346 are successful, independent businesses. These are people who had no money, whom they have helped to build their businesses, sharing their principles. They also have 400 corporate stores.
No atom of racism in this gentle soul
Reminiscing about Nelson Mandela, Mr Ackerman shared his experience of this gentle and kind soul. When someone in the new cabinet asked Mandela why he was supporting our white rugby team, he was angry. “If you hold this attitude,” he said, “ you will not last long in my cabinet.” ‘Madiba has no atom of racism inside himself,’ Mr Ackerman said.
Building a business in dire economic times is challenging to experienced business people across the planet. Building a green business in a country notorious for its environmental slumber – hence uneducated consumers – goes beyond testing your business skill. Your intellect alone will not be enough.
100% passion the new business
“We run on 100% passion,” I mentioned to a friend at the end of the meeting. If your focus is not totally dedicated to crafting a better world, you may as well go home now. I believe hard-core business focused on profit is falling by the wayside – in the new world of ecological intelligence they will simply become redundant.
Faith in the healing of the planet, translated into living and applied eco principles will ensure business becomes once again a leading light to benefit our world. We are grateful for the recognition we have received this year (2 awards and one nomination) and the support from our readers, clients, partners and friends – and to Bertie Lourens for believing in our vision.
On Thursday, 1 December our editor, Elma Pollard, is receiving the award of “Responsible Recycler of the Year” from the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa in Cape Town.
By Elma Pollard