Margaret Hirsch - I think we all have similar challenges, but our self-esteem and our sense of self-worth separate the winners from the losers

Margaret Hirsch
Margaret Hirsch - Chief Operations Executive, of Hirsch's

MARGARET HIRSCH has become a leading example to businesswomen in southern Africa. Although from a humble background, she has participated in co-founding and running the multi million-rand appliance and electronic retail organisation, Hirsch's.

Margaret started work washing hair in a salon at the age of twelve. She started her first formal job working for an attorney on the day she left school and has worked ever since.

Margaret met Allan Hirsch, a fridge mechanic, in 1971. They married in 1972, while she was working as a secretary with JBS and she then worked for a shipping company in Durban. When she fell pregnant with Richard in 1976, she was fired from her job. Their daughter, Luci, was born in 1978. In 1979, the Hirsch's opened their first shop in Umhlanga Rocks Drive, Durban North.

An inspiration to others

Today, as chief operations executive of Hirsch's, Margaret has been integrally involved with all aspects of the business. This includes selling, invoicing, demonstrating, being a delivery person on the trucks, installing and demonstrating in customers' homes.

Over the last 40 years, the Hirsch's have opened twelve Hirsch Homestore branches throughout KZN, Gauteng and Cape Town and five concept stores (Samsung and Sony stores in KZN and Gauteng and a bedroom boutique and lighting shop in Cape Town). "We have built Hirsch's from a tiny store to a billion-rand company and I hope that I will be an inspiration to others and help them believe that they can live their dreams as well," she says.

She points out that it is only through 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."

Hands on service

Customer loyalty is what has made Hirsch's a house-hold name. 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. 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. Without customers, we would not have a company. I have been looking after our customers, their children and now their grandchildren."

In addition, the company prides itself on being transparent. "Our staff knows exactly what is going on all the time, which makes them feel comfortable with us and makes them feel part of the family. The values of honesty, loyalty and integrity form the basis of all our interactions," explains Margaret. All Hirsch's staff members are encouraged to better themselves and are taught that by uplifting themselves they will ultimately uplift those around them.

A child of the universe

In reflecting on the challenges that she has faced as a woman in business, Margaret says, "I don't really think of myself as a woman, but more a child of the universe, I think we all have similar challenges, but our self-esteem and our sense of self-worth separate the winners from the losers."

She believes that women can balance work-life demands but it's not easy. "When my children were small, I worked from home. Later, when they went to school, they would come and spend the afternoons in the shop, which I wasn't sure was good at the time, but in the end, it was the best thing that could have happened. They learnt the business from when they were tiny and today they are both extremely successful in their own right."

Margaret has helped to publicise the plight of young girls throughout South Africa who do not attend school in the months they are menstruating, with the Girls with Dignity Project. She regularly visits schoolgirls to tell them about the project, initiated by Sue Barnes in KZN. She 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 one panty and three reusable sanitary pads which will last them their entire high school career. "The average school attendance has now increased from 40% to 80%, and their marks have improved dramatically including the - better attendance, better self-esteem, better marks," Margaret said.

Empowering women

Margaret has received many awards, including two Lifetime Achievement Awards in business and entrepreneurship to acknowledge her contribution to the business world in South Africa. She established the Margaret Hirsch Women in Business Achiever of the Year Award competition after she saw how well her business did and how winning awards gave her an edge over her competitors.

She also works closely with other women's groups including the Lionesses of Africa, which empowers 850 000 women entrepreneurs across the continent. "It's an honour to help these women to grow their businesses from start-up to sustainable business venture. There's a growing number of women helping women, which this organisation embodies - 'our motto is empowered women empower women'.

The advice that she would give others is to "Know that you are enough. You are perfect as you are. And your job is to make the best of your life."

Margaret Hirsch

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