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Vuselela: the rebirth

The year 1996 was a year of change, not only for the country as a whole, but for Pick n Pay too. A new government was in place under Nelson Mandela, and Pick n Pay’s Management Board had been split into two separate divisions.

After more than three decades as the retail industry leader in South Africa, it was time to re-energise the Company and re-affirm the Pick n Pay values of human dignity and mutual respect.

Vuselela, the Nguni word for rebirth (or renewal) was the vehicle chosen to bring about that change. A careful assessment of the Company’s history, current position and future potential revealed that the greatest challenge lay in improving human relationships within the Company in order to provide better service to customers.

A project team was formed under the leadership of then Marketing Director, Martin Rosen, and Vuselela was launched in October 1996, shortly before Pick n Pay’s 30th anniversary.

With the support of then CEO Sean Summers, the Vuselela metamorphosis was overseen by Isaac Motaung, who at the time was General Manager of Organisational Development (Isaac is now the Company’s HR Director).

Isaac’s first step was to canvass employee opinion on the existing mission statement while at the same time consulting with them on the content of the new one. The result was an emotional affirmation of all that Pick n Pay had stood for since its inception:

Mission statement 
We serve
With our hearts we create a 
Great place to be. 
With our minds we create an 
Excellent place to shop.

Vuselela was also responsible for the formulation of a set of corporate values – although it is important to note that these had been practised within the Group since its inception. 

Vuselela ensured that employees are aware of the existence of these values, and of the importance of implementing them in the workplace and at home.

Pick n Pay’s values 
We are passionate about our customers and will 
Fight for their rights. 
We care for, and respect each other, 
We foster personal growth and opportunity. 
We nurture leadership and the vision, and reward 
Innovation. 
We live by honesty and integrity. 
We support and participate in our communities. 
We take individual responsibility. 
We are all accountable.

While phase one of Vuselela focused on the first part of the new mission statement, the second phase aimed to fulfil the promise made in the latter part through a programme of countrywide store upgrades.

“Vuselela and You” was the name of the third phase designed to give employees a sense of involvement in Vuselela by taking individual responsibility for their actions.

All operating standards were reviewed, and minimum criteria were put in place with a view to ensuring an acceptable level of service both internally and externally.

Vuselela's long-term commitment to delivering world-class service through staff training has yielded great rewards. Staff interviews conducted in the spirit of Vuselela revealed that some 40% of the company’s hourly-paid employees were illiterate.

The result was the signing of an agreement with the South African Technikon in August 1997 to accredit and endorse the 456 training modules developed by Pick n Pay.

At a ceremony to mark the event, the then CEO, Sean Summers, said the only real competitive advantage for a business lay in educating its workers. “Empowerment is not grabbing a piece of the business, but giving people opportunities and helping them to grow,” he said.

While emphasis was on structured on-the-job training, where employees learn at their own pace in real-life situations, other educational opportunities ranged from Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) to internationally recognised MBA degrees. Nearly 5 000 Pick n Pay employees graduated at ceremonies held in tertiary institutions throughout the country.

Artist: Velaphi MzimBa

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