Life of Pep Stores founder Renier van Rooyen was a classic rags-to-riches story

Renier van Rooyen during a visit with President Nelson Mandela. (Supplied)
Renier van Rooyen during a visit with President Nelson Mandela. (Supplied)

Renier van Rooyen (87), founder of Pep Stores, passed away earlier this week after a long period if illness.

Van Rooyen had humble beginnings as entrepreneur in Upington in the rural and arid Northern Cape. He entered the business world at the age of 23 and achieved his success without the benefit of capital of his own. He originally borrowed the equivalent of R1 000 to start his business and had no business experience or financial training.

His life is a classic "rags-to-riches" story. He combined his personal philosophy for success with a business formula of selling clothing cheaper than anybody else. The result was that within 16 years, he managed to turn a small concern operating out of a single shop with one employee, into a retail giant with 500 stores, 10 factories, 12 000 employees and a turnover of close to R300m in 1981.

His appointment of Whitey Basson as Pep's financial director in 1971 and then putting Basson in charge of Shoprite was a hugely successful move, according to a biography written by his son Johann.

Van Rooyen sold his share in the company to his friend Christo Wiese, who continued rapidly to expand from the healthy foundation laid down by its founder to become the largest retailer in the southern hemisphere.

The three men remained life-long friends and during his period of illness, Basson and Wiese were frequent visitors to the care facility where Van Rooyen stayed in Durbanville.

Dynamic personality
Van Rooyen had a charismatic and dynamic personality and his tact and enthusiasm was legendary. He also had the ability to reach out to even the lowest-ranked of his employees.

“You must select a market, know the product you are selling, and you must believe in what you are doing. You must be single-minded and prepared to work day and night. In other words, you must eat, sleep and drink your business”.
With these words Van Rooyen described the recipe from which he created one of the largest retail businesses in South Africa from his very humble beginnings, according to the biography.

The key ingredients of this recipe were "faith, positive thinking, hard work, enthusiasm and compassion", combined which formed the building blocks for Pep Stores' success under Van Rooyen's leadership.

Apart from having been one of SA's foremost entrepreneurs, he was a philanthropist. In 2011, for instance he was awarded the Inyathelo Award for Lifetime Philanthropy for his "unwavering compassion and financial generosity throughout his life to poor and vulnerable communities, particularly in the Northern and Western Cape".

Van Rooyen had actively campaigned for the scrapping of apartheid measures such as the Group Areas Act.

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