RYK VAN NIEKERK: Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson will retire at the end of the year. He has been with the Shoprite Group for more than 35 years, and has transformed the group from a few stores to a R110 billion multinational retailer that employs 140 000 people
Whitey, thank you and welcome to the show. When and why did you decide to call it a day?
WHITEY BASSON: I called it a day today. And, when I decided to do it, as a responsible bloke I had to, about three years ago, four years ago, start working through it so my job and my company stayed safe and on the road. So it was a planned process, not something which I just woke up with and then said I would do it.
So today was [the day to tell] all the guys who have worked with me. It was planned that way.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: How operationally involved are you still in the company?
WHITEY BASSON: Very much so. I still do buying, I still do marketing, I still go to property sites. That’s a part of my job that I like, so that’s what I keep myself busy with.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: It’s not an easy thing to run a retail group in South Africa. Today we heard that Stuttafords is going into business rescue. Edcon also recently reported some problems. What are you doing right and what are they doing wrong?
WHITEY BASSON: Maybe it’s because I still work in the business that there’s a difference. But I can’t say that they are doing something wrong. We just try and keep our heads down and work hard at the business. It’s not fun anymore in the sense that businesses should do better and our growth rate should be higher. It’s difficult. The red tape is killing us all off in terms of its speed and tiring us.
But I can understand that some guys take the heat on it. Shoprite has been the exception in the sense that we just maintained it and carried on with the rhythm that we had.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: What are the events or the moments in your 35-year-plus career at the group that you are the proudest of?
WHITEY BASSON: The great times were probably – every store was fantastic in the early days. I used to go to all the openings and make a sort of speech or something there for the staff. I think that was wonderful in terms of planning businesses and from the property rights through to the final night of opening.
But then the big numbers were obviously OK Bazaars and Checkers and Grand Bazaars where we took over three listed groups, and took those quantum leaps. In Checkers’s instance we took over a company that was substantially bigger than ourselves. That was a massive decision and something which at the end of the day you could say is probably the highlight. …
RYK VAN NIEKERK: You’ve been at the helm of a very big South African company for many decades and in those decades we’ve seen regular political turmoil. What do you make of what is currently happening in South Africa?
WHITEY BASSON: Maybe if you ask me in January when I am not the CEO of Shoprite I may reply to a question like that. Currently my job is to look after the company. Our shoppers represent everybody in politics and wherever and all religions. We are totally neutral to what happens in those areas of our lives, and the areas I complain about are the fact that I think decision-making processes are just too slow and too over-regulated, which is just not helping the growth rate… While we have wonderful schemes and ideas, we just can’t get them through, starting from local municipalities, to anybody out there. To finalise takes double the time it should.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: What are you going to do now?
WHITEY BASSON: Play a bit of golf and come back in January refreshed and see that the blokes are running a good ship in the right direction; and have tea with them. And if they have any questions for me, answer them. That’s it.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Are you staying in South Africa?
WHITEY BASSON: Ja. I’ve been appointed as deputy chairman, so I must stay in South Africa. I must keep looking at where we are travelling. But I’m not leaving internationally at all. My children are all here, they are all married, so it’ll be nice.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Thank you Whitey. That was Whitey Basson, the CEO of Shoprite.
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