Margaret Hirsch has become a leading example to business women in Southern Africa – coming from a humble background, to co-founding and running the multi million rand Appliance and Electronic retail organisation, Hirsch’s. Margaret has been recognised through her efforts in building a successful business, and her determination to give back to the community by, over the last four years, winning a multitude of business awards, including two Lifetime Achievement Awards in business and entrepreneurship.
As Chief Operations Officer of the Hirsch group, a sought after speaker at business events and schools – where she has established a successful motivational programme - across Southern Africa, this dynamic woman, who is passionate about her business and the people who work for and with her, has become a legend in her time.
Margaret Hirsch was born in Zimbabwe, and when she came to South Africa at the age of ten, her family was thrown into poverty when her father died. This did not deter Margaret who started work washing hair in a salon at the age of twelve. She has never stopped working, and her determination and drive have helped Hirsch’s grow from a tiny repair shop to a multi billion rand company. She points out that it is only through share hard work and a love for what the individual is involved in, that businesses will thrive. Putting it simply she says “You can work for a boss and make a living – or you can work for yourself and earn a fortune, but you have to be passionate about what you do.”
“We have built Hirsch’s from a tiny little 'mom and pop' store to a billion rand company and I hope that I will be an inspiration to others to know that they can live their dreams as well.”
Margaret regards herself as a “jack of all trades”. having done the selling, invoicing, demonstrating, being a delivery person on the trucks, installing and demonstrating in customers homes and generally taking care of almost everything at Hirsch’s for the past 37 years. Margaret’s knack of empowering everyone who works for the company is extraordinary. “In 1994 we made the decision to empower our drivers, we sold them their trucks at a low price, allowing them to pay us back over a long period of time. The ripple effect from our business is that over 20 businesses have started up over the last 21 years, and these business now employ over 800 people…” she explains.
Customer loyalty is what has made Hirsch’s a household name. They were recently voted as the People’s Choice in the appliance, electronics and air-conditioning retail outlets by Daily News readers. What amazes people is that Margaret does not have an office in any of the branches. She sits at a desk on the floor and helps deal with customer complaints and queries on a daily basis. “What I love in our industry, is seeing two and sometimes three generations from the same family coming through to furnish their homes with us.” Margaret explains. “Keeping our customers happy and providing them with a unique, hands on service has helped our business grow and we are continuously finding ways to improve on our service to them.”
As well as running 18 Hirsch branches and concept stores around South Africa, Margaret has also helped to publicize the plight of young girls throughout the country who do not attend school in the months they are menstruating, with the Girls With Dignity Project. She regularly visits school girls throughout South Africa to tell them about the project, initiated by Sue Barnes in KZN. Margaret is determined to help these girls. Travelling to many rural areas, she does talks and tells them that in life they will always have a choice, they can choose to stay at home or choose to go to school and eventually be successful in life . Margaret hands out panty packs to the girls, each pack contains 1 panty and 3 reusable sanitary pads which will last them for their entire high school career. “The average school attendance has now increased from 40% to 80%, and their marks have improved dramatically - better attendance, better self esteem -better marks” Margaret said.
Another one of her initiatives is the Margaret Hirsch Women In Business Achiever of the Year Award, that is given to a business women in each of the areas in which Hirsch’s operates to recognise their achievements in the work place. Margaret established the competition after she saw how well her business did and how winning the award gave her an edge over her competitors. “Winning these awards has been wonderful – both for Hirsch’s and for me personally, and I would like to see this happening to other women in business.” Margaret explained.