A decade of evolution
The retailer’s bold initiative aimed at improving and adapting its broad service has carved a niche for it among peers
In the best of circumstances retailing is not for the faint-hearted, and while it’s difficult to define “the best”, SA’S current environment might not make it into that category.
As a major retailer, Woolworths plays centre stage in the drama that is 21st century SA. There is almost nothing that unfolds in this country that does not touch on the group — its employees, customers, suppliers, community members or shareholders. A train set alight in Retreat, Cape Town, a competition commission hearing into the grocery retail sector, a textile factory going up in flames, changes to the BBBEE legislation, a weaker rand, politicians demanding faster transformation — these are just some of the challenges that need to be faced on a daily basis by the Woolworths team. There are also the long-term environmental challenges, every climatic model raises red flags over water availability in the Cape; energy (in whatever form) is set to become a prohibitively expensive commodity.
And consumers’ preferences are changing. Consumers want to know more about what it is they are consuming, where it came from, and why it has to be covered in so much plastic. Woolworths has to try figure out which way things are heading and which way it should be heading.
Ten years ago the group upped its commitment. It launched a farranging initiative aimed at co-ordinating and driving its determination to make a real difference that would benefit all stakeholders. The dynamic nature of the commitment was evident in the name, the Good Business Journey (GBJ).
In SA, CEO Zyda Rylands is responsible for driving the ambitious programme and is unfazed by the complex dynamics at play.
Rylands is obsessed with her target market. Customers appear to pay little attention to the impressive achievements notched up by the GBJ — the hundreds of suppliers introduced to its sustainable farming programme, the hefty financial contributions to communities, billions of rand of wealth created for black employees, significant reduction in relative water and energy use, the hundreds of small enterprises it has helped develop, the thousands of jobs created, the 10m plus plastic bottles recycled into usable fibre for jeans and T-shirts — instead they focus on where the group has disappointed them.
Rylands believes the passion with which consumers single out Woolworths is an indication of their passion for the group. She believes a big part of that passion is down to the GBJ, which has placed Woolworths at the very centre of people’s perceptions about a wide array of environmental and ethical issues.
“I see this sort of reaction in a positive light, it keeps us on our toes. It means our customers know we take the issues very seriously and it ensures we can never take anything for granted,” says Rylands.
“It’s called the Good Business Journey, it’s a journey that will never be over . . . never. There will always be challenges and things we can do better, things that are as important to our customers as they are to us.”
When then CEO Simon Susman launched the GBJ in 2007 it was the first of its kind in SA retail.
Susman was driven by the realisation that sustainable growth could only be achieved by paying greater attention to the world around us.
“The links between economic growth, transformation, social development, the environment and climate can either form a vicious or virtuous circle,” says Susman.
The initial plan was for five years, and focused on
What it means:
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