Given the choice, I would almost always favour a decentralised management model over a centralised empire. Pick n Pay is a well-run business but it can’t replicate the owner-managed local Spar. When we lived in Norwood, Joburg, the Spar could find specialist imported products for us. Don’t even try at Pick n Pay these days, though you might have had some luck when Raymond Ackerman ran a chain of a dozen stores.Bureaucracy seems the inevitable outcome of centralised management. The argument has got more complex, as there is often a clear case for the centralisation of back-office functions, especially in financial services, and so they should be. But the client experience needs to be up close and personal.There is a breed that would fundamentally disagree with me, known as the professional manager. For some time the then Barlow Rand group would shuffle staff, particularly the CFOs, between the cement, motor dealerships, metal tubing and maize meal industries. It seemed to work until,...

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