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A great leader in retail steps down

A great leader in the retail space in Africa is stepping down. Shoprite CEO, Whitey Basson has announced his retirement. Basson was at the helm of Shoprite for close to forty years; this is a remarkable achievement.

Under his leadership, clothing retailer, Pepkor bought a small retail chain in the Western Cape for R1 million; Basson has grown Shoprite into Africa’s largest retailer with a market capitalisation of R114bn, and as at June 2016, an annual turnover of R130bn. Shoprite consists of 1 855 corporate stores and 359 convenience grocery and liquor franchises.

Great leaders “think big, and they have a very clear vision; this has always been the case with Basson. Many scoffed at his vision of acquiring the OK Bazaars, and his vision to expand Shoprite into Africa. Both ventures have paid off handsomely.

Basson has always impressed with his ability to take risks, to act decisively and to get others to buy into his vision. When he acquired the OK Bazaars from South African Breweries for R1.00 many thought this was extremely risky; some may have even thought this was sheer madness since OK Bazaars’ debt was more than Shoprite’s annual profit. At the time, the acquisition, which consisted of 130 OK stores, 18 Hyperamas and 21 House and Homes stores was haemorrhaging R1million per day. It is often said Basson made more changes in a week than the previous owners made in a decade. Decisive leadership always inspires confidence.

Great leaders always surround themselves with good people; this has undoubtedly attributed to Basson’s success. Basson has always chosen people, who like his self, made decisions very quickly.

Another trait of a great leader is the fact that they ensure that succession planning is in place. Basson leaves very big shoes to fill. His successor, Pieter Engelbrecht has worked closely with Basson for a long time, facilitating a very smooth transition. At the time of Basson’s announcement Basson said Engelbrecht was already looking after 50% of operational issues.

Leadership can be a very lonely place and leaders always face criticism. Basson and Shoprite Chairman, Christo Wiese came under a lot of criticism in 2005 when they appointed Adriaan Basson, then 29 and Jacob Wiese then 24, as alternate directors for their fathers. Basson and Wiese justified these appointments by explaining that they wanted to expose their sons to the challenges of running a company the size of Shoprite. They also expressed their intention to mentor and guide their children. Great leaders recognise the importance of mentoring and succession planning.

Basson has not been lost to Shoprite – this is good news. He will continue to serve as non-executive vice chairperson. Experienced, successful business leaders have so much to offer; businesses and leaders coming up the ranks need to tap into their wisdom and experience.

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