Share This Article
Managing Director, Acorn Group of Companies
Gail Downing was born in Manchester, England and was educated in the United Kingdom before re-locating to South Africa during the early 1980’s.
Her keen interest in all forms of business and particularly in marketing, led Gail to Tiger Brands, where she worked for several years at SA Oil Mills, one of the group’s companies specialising in manufacturing, marketing and distribution of Fast-moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) products such as margarine, peanut butter, edible oils and pet food.
Most of these branded products were market leaders in Southern Africa at the time and as a result of her involvement in the process, Gail gained extensive experience in brand management, advertising and marketing strategy, key-account sales negotiations and supply-chain management.
After moving on to other businesses in the group, Gail left Tiger to join Shell South Africa in 1990 where she was responsible for the marketing and sales of several brands owned by Shell, sold mainly through retail and wholesale chain stores. Gail left Shell in 1996 to start her own business, Acorn Products, originally specialising in outsourced sales and merchandising of FMCG products.
Acorn soon acquired its own brands such as Tabard insect repellents and Teepol detergents, while growing from strength to strength as an organisation dedicated to hard work, sound marketing capabilities and a strong commitment to taking good care of its employees. The transition to a group of companies came about over time, as Acorn added a pharmaceutical plant, laboratory and other specialised business units to its portfolio of services and products.
In addition to her demanding schedule as a wife and mother, businesswoman, entrepreneur and managing director, Gail has maintained a special place in her life for the advancement of women in the economy. At the advent of democracy in 1994, this led to Gail being invited by the South African government to play a leading role in developing the South African Women Entrepreneur’s Network (SAWEN) – an initiative conceived by the Department of Trade and Industry.
At present Gail serves as Chairperson of the SAWEN board, while keeping a steady hand on the helm as managing director of Acorn Group, which continues to grow and consolidate its key role as a successful and independent owner of several leading brands in the South African consumer market.
Read her interview below:
*Your Full Name:
*Affiliations /Member of Business &/or Women’s organization/s (website details please):
Former chairperson of South African Women Entrepreneurs’ Network (SAWEN)
Member of Cape Town Chamber of Commerce
Member of Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce
Member of United Sucess
*Business Social media Network Profiles (e.g. Linked In / include blogs if any):
Facebook pages of Acorn’s brands: www.facebook.com/TabardSA – and
*What does winning the International Entrepreneurial Challenge Awards mean to me:
I feel honoured, as well as inspired to use this opportunity to promote the interests of
previously disadvantaged women in business.
* Representing my country in showcasing the achievement of women in Entrepreneurship is
– a privilege for which I am very grateful – and a responsibility to share my experiences with other women who may learn something from my story.
*Entrepreneurship is essential because:
Entrepreneurship is fundamental to building empowerment opportunities and probably the
fastest, most effective way to address our country’s economic imbalances.
*IWEC brings value through:
Communicating the achievements of women in business and consequently inspiring others to
either take advantage of an opportunity, or persevere in their endeavours.
ON A PROFESSIONAL NOTE – tell us about what you do.
My occupation is . . . Managing Director of Acorn Group
The special interests in my area of business/expertise are . . . Business Strategy, Financial Management, Marketing and Sales Management
What I love most about my field of interest is . . . the rapid pace of my type of business – i.e fast moving consumer goods (FMCG). Every day brings new challenges and opportunities, and despite having so much experience, I’m still learning and experiencing new things.
Some of the defining moments in my career have been . . . deciding to leave my job in a global corporate organisation to start my own business. Being invited by government to join the board of the South African Women Entrepreneurs’ Network (SAWEN). Winning the Enterprising Women USA Magazine Award in my category in 2014.
YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL
– My family… comes first, and they are the most important reason for doing what I do.
– It is important for me that my personal time includes… time with my family – and time to relax with friends, as well as some alone-time to think, reflect and re-charge.
YOUR PERSONAL INSPIRATION – tell us what you are passionate about
I am passionate about promoting the roles of women in their own businesses, as well as in advancing career opportunities for women in all kinds of organisations.
My favourite quote is by… Maya Angelou – ” I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ”
I am inspired by my mother, who raised me and my 3 siblings to be the best we could be in everything we chose to do.
My husband, Colin inspired me, supported me in my vision and helped me remain connected to my purpose. He encouraged me to complete my MBA and brought different perspectives to my career as well as my personal life.
The female role model who I believe inspires others in my field of interest is Strong women who made a difference in the world not necessarily in the FMCG channel are for instance Magaret Thatcher and currently Thuli Madonsela
The male role models who I believe inspire others in my field of interest are Raymond Ackerman and Whitey Basson in the FMCG channel in SA.
LIVING A LEGACY
My personal message to the world is… leave things in better shape than you found them – and you don’t always have to do something big to make somebody smile.
Mentorship is important to me because… it gives me joy and satisfaction to see others progressing.
I believe support/giving back to the community is important because… in making a difference yourself, you can encourage others to make a difference too.
AS AN AMBASSADOR FOR YOUR COUNTRY (please provide website addresses where possible)
If you were to visit my city, I would personally recommend that you visit…(Johannesburg)
- The Cradle of Humankind
- Lilies-Leaf Farm
- Apartheid Museum
- Tour of Soweto
- Stay in B&B in Soweto or Alexandra
SOME OPTIONAL QUESTIONS AND OTHER THOUGHTS
The best piece of advice I ever received was… my mother saying “never give up.” “If at first you don’t succeed try until you do”.
The secret to my success is…
hard work – and the knowledge that something worthwhile is seldom achieved easily.
The literature that has influenced my profession includes… business people’s autobiographies
The literature that has influenced my life includes… books by the Dalai Lama, such as ‘The Art of Happiness.’
My views on living a life of balance are… work hard – play hard.
To make our world a better place, I believe the key ingredients would be… kindness, honesty