Whitey Basson’s biggest regret

Whitey Basson

Former Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson said his biggest regret was not growing successful international retail businesses in the United States and India.

Basson is widely considered South Africa’s best-ever retail chief executive for his exceptional achievements at Shoprite.

While working for Pep Stores in the 1970s, he developed a passion for acquiring and rebuilding troubled companies.

In 1979, Basson convinced the Pep Stores board to actively identify acquisition opportunities or start a new venture in the food retailing business.

The same year, he acquired a small 8-store Western Cape grocer named Shoprite. This was the start of developing a dominant supermarket group in Africa.

He continued his acquisition spree, which included buying six old Ackermans food stores, the Grand Bazaars Group, and the Checkers Group.

He successfully turned around the loss-making Checkers group, which comprised 169 stores with losses equalling Shoprite’s turnover. He saved 16,500 jobs.

With Checkers as part of the Shoprite group, it was a profitable food retailer with 241 stores trading across all LSMs.

A big break for Shoprite came in 1997 when the OK Bazaars, which was losing more than the Shoprite Checkers Group profits, ran into major financial difficulties.

A R1 deal was struck with the South African Breweries – the sole shareholder of the OK Bazaars chain.

Basson returned OK to profitability. He kept the OK brand alive and turned it into the OK Franchise Division. OK Furniture and House & Home branches became OK Furniture company.

In 2001, they started to market the Shoprite and Checkers brands separately. They repositioned the Checkers brand as close as possible to its major rival, Pick ‘n Pay.

The Checkers repositioning was a tremendous success. It became the fastest-growing brand in South Africa and helped Shoprite to increase its market share.

Basson started to look at other countries for further growth. Shoprite opened up new African stores, including Zambia, Nigeria, and Ghana.

On 31 October 2016, Basson, then aged 70, announced that he would be retiring as CEO at the end of that year.

During his career, he grew Shoprite from a small eight-store chain with a value of R1 million to a global powerhouse with a market capitalisation of R114 billion.

Whitey Basson’s biggest regret


Basson said his biggest regret during his 45-year career was not growing successful international retail businesses in the United States and India.

He told Laataand by Riaan that he wanted to see how well they could compete internationally. “I never had this opportunity,” he said.

Basson spent a lot of time in the United States and worked in many food stores, including their bakeries and other areas.

“I desperately wanted Shoprite to reach a point where it would buy a small business in the United States,” he said.

“I don’t know if we would have been successful. American retailers are very good. But I wanted to try and see what happens.”

He added that their failed entrance into India was another sad situation which he is disappointed about.

Basson was referring to Shoprite calling off its franchisee deal in India with real estate developer Nirmal Lifestyle Group in 2010.

At the time, Shoprite had a single hypermarket in Mumbai and a cash-and-carry operation in India.

Shoprite was concerned about pumping more money into India because of uncertainty from the Indian government on foreign investment in retail.

“India was an incredible opportunity. However, we got stuck because of political red tape and bureaucracy,” he said.

“I told current Shoprite CEO Pieter Engelbrecht that when he is ready to launch in India, I would help, even if I am 90 years old.”