Coming in from the fields to cultivate Pepkor management
JAN LE ROUX
ON THE surface not a lot has changed since Jan le Roux left his position as Pepkor chief financial officer 10 years ago to go farming. Returning as Pepkor managing director and chief executive, Le Roux has the same desk and secretary as the day he left. Even the other executives are still the same, although the operating companies he will oversee, such as Pep Stores and Shoprite, have grown substantially.
Le Roux was appointed by Pepkor chairman Christo Wiese to take over the day-to-day running of the company, leaving Wiese free to focus on development opportunities. These include substantial opportunities in the financial services arena in which Wiese has become involved since he took over Boland Bank in 1994.
Wiese no longer has time to run Pepkor and so decided to employ someone to do this for him. He approached Le Roux last year. Wiese remains as chairman.
Le Roux will be appointed to the boards of various other companies within the group and to the board of Boland.
Le Roux is well known to Wiese and the group's executives, having never divorced himself completely from the company where he started work immediately after completing his CA at the age of 24. He is Pepkor's third largest shareholder after Wiese and Sanlam, so his interest in the group has never waned. However, he is quick to point out that although he owns a large (undisclosed) percentage of Pepkor shares - "every one of which I bought myself" - and is one of the Boland's biggest landowners, he still drives a 1982 Mercedes Benz.
Le Roux sees his role at Pepkor as one of implementing policy and increasing efficiency. Pepkor has only four executives and this, he says, won't change. Operating companies will remain decentralised with their own management and his job will be to give guidance where it's needed. His aim is for Pepkor to be the most efficiently run and profitable retailer in Africa. To succeed in this goal, he plans to make sure there's a second line of management in place to take over once the present managers retire. "A company is only as good as its management," he says.
Le Roux returned to Pepkor, he says, "because Christo asked me" but he has an undertaking that his farms will continue to operate at a steady pace. He has 24 managers to make sure that his 900, or so, hectares continue to produce export grapes, plums and citrus.
His new job is not dissimilar to farming. It's all about business planning, he says. The difference, however, is now he has to wear a suit. "I was late the first day because I couldn't find my suit."
He left Pepkor 10 years ago "to get a new perspective. I'd overworked myself," he says. He was appointed chief financial officer and did the same job for 12 years. Having grown up on a farm, farming was the natural choice. Besides export grapes, plums and citrus, he also has a hotel. His family home, Mooikelder, an old Cape Dutch homestead close to Paarl, has been renovated and opened for guests.