What’s in store for Pick n Pay’s Richard Brasher
But PnP CEO says he might find time for a bit of fly-fishing
● Departing Pick n Pay CEO Richard Brasher, who retires from the grocery retailer at the month-end after more than eight years at the helm, has no intention of taking it easy by playing golf or sailing around the world.
Brasher, who has enjoyed a 35-year stint in grocery retail including previously holding the top job at Tesco in the UK, loves work and says he still plans to pursue various business interests, some of which could be in the food sector that he enjoys so much.
Used to working 24/7 as head of one of SA’s biggest grocery retailers, Brasher says he will take off a couple of weeks at the end of April and then plans to ease back into work, but it will probably only be “five out of seven days”.
“I don’t have a passion to play every major golf course in the world and I don’t want to build a boat and torture my wife by trying to sail around the world,” he quipped.
“I don’t have any burning traditional requirements for retirement. People talk about work-life balance and I think that’s just nonsense. I love work.”
Brasher, who had wanted to step down from Pick n Pay last year but remained on to ensure stability for the group during the Covid-19 pandemic, says he thinks it’s good for the company to get a “fresh pair of eyes and legs” to shepherd the business on the next leg of its journey.
His successor, Netherlands-born Pieter Boone, who arrives this month, takes on a company that has doubled the size of its store footprint and significantly improved profits under Brasher’s leadership.
According to the group’s half-year results to the end of August 2020, Pick n Pay had 1,945 stores, significantly up on the 992 when Brasher first joined.
Pick n Pay’s full-year results to February 28 2021 will be released this week. Profit before tax for the year ended March 1 2020 came in at R1.8bn, about treble what it was when Brasher was first appointed.
“I just know when it’s time for me to go and do something else. I loved Tesco and I loved being in the UK and I loved travelling, and then I got to the stage where I needed a new adventure, which is why I came here [to Pick n Pay].”
When Brasher arrived he had the task of reviving a powerful brand that had lost its way somewhat.
“It had become the establishment. I think [Pick n Pay founder] Raymond [Ackerman] in his early days had been a challenger against market leader Checkers.
“He had changed Pick n Pay from being a challenger brand to having probably the best greatest-hits album in retail in South Africa. But it hadn’t had a decent hit recently. It hadn’t changed probably enough in a decade and then it had tried to change too much.
“However, at the same time, there was this fondness and benevolence to the brand. People really liked what Raymond’s values were and what the brand stood for. Here I found myself with a brand that had some warmth and some history and people felt positively about it, but they weren’t that happy with the shopping trip.”
Brasher then set himself the task of sorting out the business and making sure it took accountability.
“Partly we had to remind ourselves it was our fault not someone else’s, because a good excuse is not a close cousin of success.”
Brasher realised he had to help Pick n Pay get its “mojo back”, saying the brand was in a tough place “flying upside down and 50 feet above water”.
“It wasn’t in a good space but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be, but we had to take some accountability. The first stage was to stop the bleeding, cauterise the wound and get on with running a better commercial operation.”
Brasher says he feels Pick n Pay has now reached a stage of sustainable growth and that while “we don’t win every game, we win more than we used to and we are in a good place now”.
A new adventure beckons but Brasher, who hails from England originally, says while it will have an international element and may involve travel, he plans to keep SA as his home base.
He describes SA as the “most beautiful place in the world” and says his wife is running a business here, while his son is studying at a local university.
Brasher has no desire to head up another retailer as he has “ticked off this box”.
But he may retrace his footsteps and explore other areas of the food chain he has previously worked in, saying that being a “food buyer”, for instance, is for him the best job in the world. He could also potentially look at the wine sector and other fast-moving consumer goods segments.
That is not to say that Brasher does not have any hobbies. Now, with a five-day working week on the cards, he hopes to squeeze in a bit of fly-fishing and find some time to explore SA.
“I haven’t done any flyfishing here in eight-and-ahalf years. I’ve never really got to explore the country because I’ve been too busy in shops. I feel like I’ve had my head under the bonnet with the engine running for the last seven or eight years, so it’s very exciting. I love wine and will visit a few more vineyards, and the agriculture sector is very interesting and very vibrant. I’ve got things that are sort of work but are hobbies or interests. I love the world of food, and the history and why certain things are a certain way.”
As far as future work is concerned, Brasher says that thanks to applications such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, the need to travel to do business internationally has been reduced, which will suit him working from his base in SA.
“Zoom has changed the world. You don’t have to fly to China to talk to a Chinese business and you don’t have to live in any specific part of the world.
“Frankly, under Covid we could have done our jobs from the moon as long as they had a good WiFi connection, so I think there are things that will be opened up to people like me with my experience. It doesn’t have to be full time.
“As long as the business opportunities are interesting, the businesses are not glacial and it’s not about eking out a living or trying to save a penalty every day you wake up, then I’m going to be looking at them.”
I don’t want to build a boat and torture my wife by sailing around the world