The man stopping a Pick n Pay disaster

Pick n Pay used to be the top retailer in South Africa. However, years of strategic missteps and poor management led to the company’s technical insolvency.

The retailer is now banking on former chief executive Sean Summers to lead its turnaround, and he is up to the challenge.

In October 2023, Pick n Pay announced that it was replacing CEO Pieter Boone with Summers, who used to be the retailer’s chief executive between 1999 and 2007.

Summers is a Pick n Pay stalwart who worked for the company from 1974 to 2007. He became managing director in 1996 and CEO in 1999.

During his tenure as CEO, Summers made Pick n Pay the clear grocery market leader in South Africa. It even outperformed Shoprite, Africa’s largest retailer.

He achieved an average annual revenue growth rate of 16% per annum, significantly higher than Shoprite’s average annual revenue growth rate of 11% over the same period.

Pick n Pay also generated more revenue than Shoprite during Summers’ tenure, passing Shoprite’s revenue from 2003 to 2007.

The market rewarded Summers’ performance, and Pick n Pay’s share price increased by 476% between 1999 and his 2007 resignation. This translates to an annual compounded rate of return of 24%.

However, after he left, the retailer went into decline. Pick n Pay lost its edge and handed Shoprite the lead in the retail market.

A lot of the growth achieved under Summers was reversed under Boone, with Pick n Pay only having achieved an average annual revenue growth rate of 6.1% during his tenure. 

Its market share dropped rapidly, and while revenue grew, net income stayed mostly flat.

2024 saw the retailer’s worst performance yet, with Pick n Pay becoming technically insolvent and reporting a net loss of R3.2 billion – the worst in the retailer’s 57-year history.

The retailer’s poor performance under Boone prompted Pick n Pay to bring Summers back in to lead its turnaround – and he is up to the task.

Who is Sean Summers

Summers’s love for South Africa, retail, and Pick n Pay was largely formed by his grandfather’s and father’s accomplishments in the country.

In 2015, he told BizNews that his maternal grandfather, Brigadier Craig, was sent to South Africa as an engineer shortly after the First World War.

“The entire reclamation of the Foreshore and the establishment of the Duncan Docks and then after that, Port Elizabeth and East London – all of the emplacements before the Second World War – was his brainchild,” he said.

Summers’ father went to South Africa as a young man in the early to mid-1930s. He worked for Courtaulds, and when the war started, he joined the navy in the counter-espionage mission in Simonstown.

He was also in the Photographic and Surveillance Unit, and after that, he pursued his photographic career and eventually ended up in advertising.

One of his early clients in the agency was Jack Goldin, who is often referred to as the “father” of the drugstore concept in South Africa. He founded Pick n Pay and Clicks in the 1960s.

“When Jack became ill and sold Pick n Pay to Raymond, that’s how my father knew Raymond,” Summers explained.

“I then, anecdotally, came across Don and Petrusa Cobb, friends of my parents’. As a young guy, it was really through Don one evening that after my first job at Shell and BP Service Company, I was trying to get into the computer division there.”

“It was 1973, and it was the start of the first major world crisis, and then, when everything was put on hold there, being the young, tempestuous fellow that I was, I decided to pursue other options and have a look at what was around.”

It was Don who suggested that Summers visit Pick n Pay, where he met Raymond Ackerman.

“They said, ‘Listen, we’re looking for young guys to join us. We’ve opened in Port Elizabeth, and we’ve opened more and more stores in Cape Town.’ Before I knew where I was, on the spur of the moment, I was off to PE in 1974,” he said.

This was the start of his journey with Pick n Pay, where he held various positions before becoming Managing Director in 1996 and CEO in 1999. 

After leaving Pick n Pay, Summers worked with Steinhoff International, where he managed its 450-store UK beds and furniture business and later helped stabilise its US-based Mattress Firm business​​.

“I was just lucky when one day we came across each other, and Markus Jooste asked me what I was doing. I said my fingers were itchy. I’m nearly at the end of my restraint, and I want to do something again,” Summers said.

“Markus said, ‘Well, come and join us. We are intent on building a retail business. Come and join us.’ I must say it’s been absolutely extraordinary.”


Summers’ experience and his impressive legacy at Pick n Pay led to much optimism that he was the best man for the job when he took over from Boone last year.

This was aided by Summers’ confidence in his ability to turn the retailer around, as he warned investors to “strap in and hold on”. 

“I never, ever make promises that I can’t keep, and I’ve always believed that the most important thing in life is the truth.” 

“What I’ve tried to do is tell the truth to the market – this is our situation, this is our bedrock. Things will get a little bit more busy from here, and we will come out on the other side.”

Summers’ turnaround plan is based on his belief that the world of retail has not changed significantly since his departure, and Pick n Pay fell behind because it simply stopped giving customers what they wanted.

“For a period of 10, 12 years, the company took their eye off the ball,” he said. He told Daily Investor that Pick n Pay’s big problem is falling out of love with retail.

“I think if we apply our minds correctly, we can come back and carve back its place in the marketplace,” he said.

“It’s about putting that passion back into the business, and that passion has to be shared by everybody. Every associate in the business should feel that same love and sense of belonging.”

Summers believes that, despite the company’s downward trend over recent years, “People out there in South Africa want their Pick n Pay back”. 

“We took it away from them. They didn’t take it away from us, and they want it back.” This is why Summers is implementing a “Back to Basics” strategy to get Pick n Pay back on track.

This plan has six priorities and will focus on simplicity, quality, affordability and sustainability to help the iconic brand reclaim its former glory.

This strategy has already been implemented and is starting to show positive trends.

In its latest results, the company said the strategy Summers outlined has already been implemented, some in place since February, with encouraging early results. 

For the first ten weeks of the 2025 financial year, Pick n Pay recorded positive like-for-like growth alongside a consistently strong performance from Boxer.

The retailer has also announced a capital raise of between R10 billion to R12 billion. This will include a R4 billion rights issue and another R6 billion to R8 billion by listing a minority stake in Boxer.

“Retailing is my passion, and this company is in my blood. I have great excitement and energy for the task ahead,” Summers said following his appointment last year.

“We are in this together, and we will succeed together.”