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Philip Krawitz cuts cloth to suit SA’s upliftment

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Inasmuch as a pair of Cape Union Mart hiking shoes can get you to a mountain summit, the pinnacle of company chairperson Philip Krawitz’s life has been making South Africa a better place.

Krawitz said he felt embarrassed but also grateful to receive the Absa Business Icon Award at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards on 22 October. “The award isn’t because we’re the biggest company or employ the most people. It’s because we realise that businesses are simply vehicles for societal change and achievement,” said Krawitz, who also serves as chairperson of the United Jewish Campaign board of trustees.

“Philip is an outstanding example of what business leadership can contribute to making this world a better place,” said Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein. “He’s a dear friend, and I’ve known him for many, many years. What I admire and love about Philip is that he brings together so many different worlds. He’s a brilliant business leader and chief executive.”

Krawitz’s daughter, Martine, said, “My dad is an absolute visionary. He’s a serial entrepreneur, and he lives and dies by the values upon which he lives.”

Krawitz’s parents worked together to build Cape Union Mart from the ground up. “My real beginning in Cape Union Mart was in the 1970s,” he said. “We had just one little store. I started to grow it and open a few stores. The rest is history.”

Today, the company has about 250 stores across three chains – Cape Union Mart, Old Khaki, and Poetry. “We do our designing and manufacturing locally,” he said. “We’re proud of the fact that we have this South African brand reflecting all the values we have.”

“Ever since I was a little girl, my memories of my dad were that he was investing all the time and energy he had into building this little business,” Martine said. “He always told us that he would put the time back in because he was just trying to build a business for the benefit of all of us.”

Business aside, Krawitz is involved locally and globally with the Jewish community. Among other positions, he’s a governor of the Jewish Agency for Israel. “I’m committed to the Jewish Cape Town community, but I’m also committed to the greater South Africa, which is so important to us all.”

He said he did “the unthinkable” in the 1980s by calling for the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the African National Congress.

Helen Lieberman, who has worked with Krawitz at the Ikamva Labantu non-profit organisation she founded, said, “The big thing about Philip is that he has such a breadth of wisdom, and he sees, understands, and interprets things so well.”

Krawitz believes South Africa will be as good as we make it. “The first thing we have to do is create jobs,” he said. “If we create jobs, we’ll reduce poverty. If we reduce poverty, we’ll reduce crime. If we reduce crime, we’ll get foreign direct investment. If we get foreign direct investment, we’ll grow our economy, and create even more jobs.”

Krawitz quoted Rolls-Royce founding engineer Sir Henry Royce, “Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists, and make it better. When it doesn’t exist, design it.”

South Africans should apply this philosophy to our country, he said. “If we can have unity and peace among us, this country will reach its potential.”

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