SOUTH AFRICAN CHAIN PUTS EMPLOYEES FIRST

LONDON -- For Sean Summers, chief executive officer of South Africa-based Pick 'n Pay, operating in South Africa during apartheid forced the company to hammer out the key points of its philosophy against a backdrop of labor unrest and dissatisfaction."After Pick 'n Pay was hit by the national strikes in South Africa, which went on for four weeks, we had lost the hearts and minds of our [employees],"

LONDON -- For Sean Summers, chief executive officer of South Africa-based Pick 'n Pay, operating in South Africa during apartheid forced the company to hammer out the key points of its philosophy against a backdrop of labor unrest and dissatisfaction.

"After Pick 'n Pay was hit by the national strikes in South Africa, which went on for four weeks, we had lost the hearts and minds of our [employees]," said Summers during the CIES Marketing Forum here. He added that the event forced the company to focus on internal marketing, as well as making sure that the trade unions and labor movements in South Africa were on their side.

"We sat down with labor [unions], and explained that we were going to employ internally, and we would absolutely discriminate -- initially this was like a red rag to a bull, but they began to understand when we explained that we wanted forward-looking people to commit to us."

Citing in particular the economic diversity of the country -- which has meant that Pick 'n Pay has had to roll out multiple store formats -- and the country's national labor strikes, Summers described how these events forced the company to look at its internal marketing, making this and its investment in employees important for its survival and growth.

Summers noted that Pick 'n Pay gives employees the opportunity for training through university programs. A company film at the end of Summers' speech featured employees who had risen through the ranks to become information technology managers and accountants. Summers said such employee initiatives represent money better spent than investing in customer loyalty initiatives. Investment in employees translates to good service, which guarantees that customers will return, he said.

"We try to put the people in our company first, and then the profits will take care of themselves," he said. "We have never retrenched a person in Pick 'n Pay's 36-year history. People have only left the company if they haven't represented our values, which are that no one person is more important than anyone else -- everyone's role is vital."