Allan Hirsh - "Honesty, integrity and loyalty are required; these principles can't be compromised and are not negotiable."

Allan Hirsh : Founder and CEO, Hirsch's
Allan Hirsh : Founder and CEO, Hirsch's

ALLAN HIRSCH is an outstanding example of someone who came from humble beginnings and had to overcome personal challenges to become successful. He illustrates that "where you begin does not determine where you can go."

Allan left school in standard seven due to dyslexia and trained as an electrical appliances' mechanic. Afterwards, he started working for a company, where he and the owner had different views on business. The owner wanted to keep increasing margins, while Allan wanted reasonable rates and to provide great service to keep customers' happy. His employer's suggestion that Allan should go on his own was both exciting and daunting for him. Being newly married, having bought his first property, and the birth of his first child, delayed his decision, but he eventually opened an electrical appliance repair store in Durban North in 1979.

He recalls being "absolutely flat broke" the day Hirsch's Electrical Repairs opened, having spent all his money on rent, the electricity deposit, and marketing. He says it was enormously symbolic being able to buy a loaf of bread costing 11 cents on his way home.

Initially, Allan only repaired goods, but his reputation and knowledge led to him to becoming a formal dealer as well. He recalls working long hours when others took weekends off. With the help of his wife and partner, and the use of innovative marketing, and a big demand was created for Hirsh's products. More branches were opened, initially in KZN, and later Hirsch's became a national brand and the biggest privately-owned appliance dealer in southern Africa.

Allan says hard work with a goal in mind was necessary. Retail requires listening to customers and keeping them happy; he believes his success is due to serving others. He says, "I realised my purpose in life is to serve."

His leadership style is quite simple. "People are human, grow them, teach them skills, and more than just selling or servicing, teach them how the business works." Seeing staff grow, improve their circumstances and being happy with their lives inspires him. "We like to keep people part of us, but if they leave, they take their skills elsewhere and we wish them well."

He gets serious when stating, "Honesty, integrity, and loyalty are required; these principles can't be compromised and are not negotiable. We are totally transparent about the business with our staff." He believes that "having a why" is important for staying passionate and for being a good leader. The book "Start with Why" by Simon Sinek, describes this view and helped him define the 'why' for Hirsch's. Selecting quality products and suppliers is important for him. His view is: "Look after your suppliers and they will look after you".

Trust must be earned and Allan still tries to enhance the good reputation Hirsch's has built over 40 years. "Winners always keep going. You need to keep your vision and keep on working hard when things go wrong."

He acknowledges that being accessible differentiates him. His door is always open to customers and his contact details are freely available. He answers calls personally, and if necessary, apologises and sorts a customer's problem. He maintains that "who is right is less important than the customer being happy." Allan has received wide recognition for his contribution to business. Winning the Marketing Management Institute's "Marketer of the Year Award" in 1994 stands out for him.

Allan and his wife Margaret have been married for 47 years. They have two children, Richard and Luci, both of whom are part of the business, and he is the proud grandfather of five boys. Mention should be made that Allan keenly follows sport, especially cricket.

Since he has a "why", Allan says, he is ready to serve for another 40 years, or however long he may have.

Allan Hirsch

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