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Achievers

Lynette and Ivan Saltzman: the chemistry of Dis-Chem

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They’re best known as the co-founders of renowned retail pharmacy chain Dis-Chem, but for married couple Lynette and Ivan Saltzman, true success lies in the ability to give back to others.

“They’ve shared their good fortune, not only with their business partners but with the community,” said Dis-Chem’s operations divisional director, Brian Epstein. Epstein was among those who paid tribute to the Saltzmans when they received the Absa Business Icon Award at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards on Sunday.

Explaining their philanthropic emphasis, Lynette said: “Business isn’t just about ourselves, and it never has been. It’s also what we can do to give back to our customers and to the community.” That’s why, among the many hats she wears, Lynette serves as the director of the Dis-Chem Foundation, which she founded in 2006. “The Dis-Chem Foundation is an integral part of the benefit programme where we give back to the communities in which we work and live,” she said.

Yet what has enabled the Saltzmans to make such a significant impact on these communities is their entrepreneurial prowess. “Lynette and Ivan are perhaps the most remarkable businesspeople that I know,” said Gerald Olitzki, the executive chairperson and founder of Olitzki Property Holdings.

Indeed, what began with one small pharmacy is today a public company with more than 200 pharmacies. Operating across South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana, Dis-Chem directly employs more than 23 000 full-time staff members.

“In the beginning, we had the same start, the same products, and the same prices as all the other pharmacies,” recalled Ivan. “It became apparent to me that to be successful, to grow the business, our offering had to be different.” Through perseverance, innovation, and an understanding of one another’s strengths, he and Lynette managed to grow a business empire.

Along the way, the couple also built a rich family legacy. Their three sons, Saul, Mark, and Dan, who each paid tribute to their parents, are testament to this. “They’re very passionate about the business while at the same time maintaining very traditional family values which they’ve instilled in me and my brothers,” said Mark.

These values extend to the workplace. “Their entrepreneurial spirit and family values run deep in the DNA of Dis-Chem,” said Bronwyn Botha, Dis-Chem’s group category manager: beauty. “Their integrity and their values are still within the business after more than 40 years of running it.”

“For me, they’re bigger than just business icons,” said Zev Krengel, the vice-president of the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, “they are true icons of our community and our country.”

In accepting their award, the Saltzmans paid tribute to their family, the Dis-Chem management team, each of their 23 000 employees, and most of all, their loyal customers.

“I believe that recognition should be given to those entrepreneurs who start businesses and create as many jobs as possible,” said Ivan. “For the millions of South Africans who are currently unemployed, this is where our hope for the future lies. Awards of this nature create the awareness needed to inspire people to follow the same journey that Lynette and I have undertaken. If more people can achieve this, confidence and trust is built, and we can extend the benefits of tomorrow’s world to more and more South Africans.”

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