A self-dubbed ‘fast and furious go-getter’, Margaret Hirsch is both a wilful woman of means and a polished, high-society doyenne. For the perfect lockdown pick-me-up, we were recently invited to spend the day with her at Hirsch’s Hideaway – her private game farm.
From being served a spectacular, home-cooked feast, to going on an exhilarating game drive on the property, a day spent with Margaret quickly reveals that this is someone whose vast talents don’t only lie in the business world.
With winter on our doorstep, the drive to the farm where the Hirsch family have spent most weekends for the past 35 years seemed, at first, to be a little dull. But things changed drastically when we arrived at the vibrant, colourful holiday home.
FAMILY IS EVERYTHING
Every wall, both inside and outside the house, is a different colour and has it’s own little spurt of life. This is taken a step further inside the house, where the walls are adorned with collages of family photographs, bringing to life the stories Margaret proudly shares about her children Richard and Luci, their spouses and her beloved grandchildren. This, she says, is why her life is complete.
“Family is not an important thing, it’s everything,” says a quote that takes pride of place above the kitchen door, and it’s clear that this is the ethos by which this close-knit family lives.
One would never believe that Margaret, an inspiring connoisseur of home appliance retail and the Chief Operations Officer of Hirsch’s Home stores is turning 70 years old at the end of this year. She is fit, full of life and unapologetically colourful – and we love it!
“The nice thing about getting older is that you’ve ‘been there and done that’. I know I am enough. I’m exactly how I want to be. I am very confident and very comfortable in my own skin,” she says adding, in a brutally honest but somehow humble way, “I am also financially secure. This is something both Allan and I have worked hard to achieve and still do. I have a husband who loves me dearly and supports me and most importantly, we have a magnificent family – and that makes me whole and happy.”
As we sip our coffee Margaret speaks nostalgically about her entrepreneurial journey and how she and Allan (an appliance repair man at the time) lost their jobs in 1979 and, with two children and no income, pooled the R900 they’d saved and started their family-run appliance business in a tiny showroom in Umhlanga Rocks Drive.
“There are a handful of things I believe gave me the fortitude later on in life to meet every challenge with fearlessness, and the toughest of these was the death of my father when I was 11. My mother lived a luxurious, carefree existence because my father took care of everything and when he died, I watched as she juggled two children, her grief and the household (which I practically ran for her when my father became ill).
Margaret ended up in a foster home for a short time and started her first job (with an attorney) the day she left school. She met Allan in 1971 and they married a year later. When she fell pregnant with Richard a few years later, she was fired from her job as a secretary for a shipping company in Durban. “Firing me was the best thing my boss ever did for me. It pushed me to start my own business. I am where I am today because I learnt at a young age that nothing was going to be done for me – if I wanted something badly enough, I had to work for it.”
Fortunately, she says, Allan had the same mind-set, and together they built an empire. The couple have been happily married for 48 years and love each other deeply but it requires one hundred percent commitment from them both.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
A typical day in Margaret’s life starts at 4am, which isn’t too much of a hardship when you live on a 500-ha beautiful property, which is also home to dogs, Zebra, giraffe and warthogs and an plethora of bird species. She meditates every day and then gets stuck into work.
“I work on social media and record a blog for my staff and followers. All 22 of our outlets meet on Zoom and we always start with a song! Her day is filled with Zoom calls and Webinars, interviews and endless e-mails. I’m on the ball, but I have to be in order to keep up.”
Come 5pm, it’s time for a little face yoga. “Because, you can’t tone the rest of your body and neglect your face,” says Margaret. “And then I do Zumba or yoga over Zoom with my good friend and PRO, Glenda. You know, you are as young as you are supple!” Margaret is also currently writing a dissertation and will complete her MBA this year – her 70th birthday present to herself.
LIFE IN LOCKDOWN
While most people might dislike living out of a bag, Margaret says she genuinely misses jet-setting across provinces – and having access to her other wardrobes at their La Lucia, Johannesburg and Cape Town apartments! “I love clothes! My favourite piece of clothing is this gorgeous embroidered white jacket I’m wearing that was given to me by Reena of Swanky Modes in La Lucia Mall. If I see something that I like, I buy it. It’s as simple as that!”
Although Margaret admits she misses travel, the worst part of lockdown has been not being able to see her 95-year-old mum who’s in a home for the elderly but is still as bright as a button and full of fun every day.
Spending the day with Margaret showed us just how integrally involved with all aspects of the business she is – and she takes service calls and price queries almost effortlessly while sautéing tomatoes, puréeing butternut and whipping up a soufflé!
The couple believe strongly in encouraging others to better themselves. “In 1994 we sold our trucks to our drivers at a low price, allowing them to pay us back over a long period of time. The ripple effect has been other businesses starting up over the years and those businesses employ hundreds, if not thousands of people.” Margaret also hosts a monthly Women of Worth Programme and mentors young women through a safe house she runs in Joburg. This is amongst a host of other community outreach projects she is closely involved with.
Margaret’s business successes and role in the upliftment of local communities has led to her being the recipient of numerous awards. Among them South Africa’s Most Influential Woman in Business and Government in the retail and wholesale sector in 2014 run by CEO Magazine; Business Woman’s Association of South Africa Business Woman of the Year (Entrepreneur) 2012; the SANLAM 2013 Life Time Achievement Award in Entrepreneurship and she was also awarded the Winner of the Queen Victoria Commemorative Medal by the European Business Assembly.
Winning these awards, Margaret says, ultimately inspired her to become a champion for the empowerment of women, and to launch the Margaret Hirsch Business Woman of the Year Award. “There are so many phenomenal women out there who should be genuinely proud of whom they are!”
A BALANCED LIFE
Margaret is grateful for the gadgets (and people) who help her tick all the boxes on her very long to-do list every day. These include her personal assistant, Fay, social media manager, Shane, her phone, computer and, in the kitchen, her food processor, the Instant Pot and microwave.
“Finding a balance isn’t always easy,” says Margaret, “but it is so necessary. Never forget to say please and thank you. Never forget the less fortunate and never underestimate what you can achieve. My motto in life is this: You can have anything you want if you help others to get what they want. I’ll always stand by that!”