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South African entrepreneur Margaret Hirsch sees potential where other people see obstacles – a characteristic which has enabled her to grow a tiny repair business into one of the country’s leading retailers.

Today, Hirsch’s is a multi-million-dollar chain of seventeen mega-appliance and home furnishing stores across South Africa, selling more than twenty thousand items and employing around a thousand people.

Hirsch and her husband launched the business in 1979, offering repairs to air-conditioning units and fridges, from a tiny shop in Durban no larger than a bathroom. When microwave ovens reached the South African market shortly afterwards, Hirsch started giving microwave-cooking classes and it wasn’t long before she was running five cookery schools.

Her passion for empowering others, particularly women, has been the foundation for much of the company’s successful growth. “I thrive on people,” she tells “I look at people and see them not as they are, but as they can be; I see them as they are going to end up being when they have got all the things they want in their life. I help them get there.”

She makes a point of interviewing each prospective new staff member personally. “I like to inspire others to reach their dreams,” she says. “I tell them, there are two important days in a person’s life. The first is the day you are born, and the second is the day you find out why you are here. Your job is to list your five most important personal goals, and your five business goals

Hirsch’s employs fulltime trainers, and employees throughout the company are paid to arrive at work thirty minutes early for lessons in life skills, motivation exercises, and training in new products. Delivery drivers are encouraged to buy their own trucks from the company at low prices, repayable over a long period, making it possible for them to become entrepreneurs in their own right. In areas where the company has stores, Hirsch has set up empowerment programmes for local people; for example, in impoverished Umlazi in Kwazulu-Natal, unemployed women are provided with sponsored ingredients and taught to bake and sell their products.

Hirsch believes that success is very much a question of having the right attitude. “There has never been a challenge that I had to face that I haven’t been able to get sorted,” she tells “I believe stress is a way of thinking about what you don’t want to happen; you have to turn it around and think about what you do want to happen. You have to be tough. To get ahead, you have to be disciplined, determined, and work really hard consistently.”

She spends two days in each of three major cities in South Africa every week, where she has apartments above the stores. She’s a committed hands-on manager, working alongside staff on the shop floor, greeting customers, checking warehouse stock, overseeing the loading of delivery trucks, or handling queries and complaints.

The company is still very much a family business, with Hirsch and her husband and their two children all being actively involved in different aspects. “The greatest challenge in running a family-owned business is to teach your children from a young age that they have to work really hard,” she tells “You have to keep working every day of your life.”

Hirsch’s offers a variety of free courses to consumers on how to get the best use from the appliances they buy. The unswerving focus on customer service is matched by customer loyalty. “What I love is seeing two, and sometimes three, generations from the same family coming through to furnish their homes with us,” Hirsch says.

And what advice would she give aspiring entrepreneurs? “Dream big,” says Hirsch. “Set your goals; work towards whatever you want in life, because you can get it.”
Her own vision, resilience, patience, determination, and focus are an inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere.

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