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From clerk to CEO

By Robin-Lee Francke Time of article published 9h ago

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This is how a Cape Town man who started working for a salary of R55 a month ended up becoming the chief executive officer (CEO) of that very same company.

John Jacobs from Kraaifontein celebrates 50 years with Sweet-Orr this year and while this may seem amazing, his journey was not always sunshine and roses.

Sweet-Orr originated in Wappingers Falls, New York, in July 1871. All Sweet-Orr garments are now locally manufactured and the company is wholly and proudly South African owned, servicing the petrochemical, mining, engineering, agricultural, logistics, hospitality, medical, and other sectors locally and abroad

Jacobs, one of six children, grew up with his father working at the railway and his mother as a domestic worker.

During this type apartheid was rife and things were tough meaning everyone in the household was expected to pull their weight and work.

Jacobs left school in 1969 at the age of 16 and found a part-time job at the Kraaifontein post office where he earned R50 a month at the time.

But, determined to assist his family and improve himself he worked at nine different companies over the next two years which included taking up a position as a debt collector of which one of the benefits included using a 50CC motorcycle.

He also worked at Sanlam and Everite and he also had a short-stint as a plumber.

In 1971, Jacobs approached the labour department in need of a job.

He was 18 at the time.

“They told me a large workwear manufacturer, Sweet-Orr & Lybro, needed a junior clerk. I went for an interview on August 31,that year. They liked me and took me on at R55 per month. The rest is, as they say, history,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs was determined to climb the corporate ladder and this eventually led him to purchase his first shares in the company.

As time passed and many endeavours, his shares in the company grew resulting in Jacobs and his family eventually buying the business.

“To think that when I joined, I didn’t even have a matric certificate. I went back to night school in 1979 at the age of 24 to complete that chapter.

“I have always placed great value on education. That is why, in 2005, I completed a BCom Honours Degree at the University of the Western Cape. I believe that from the moment you stop learning, you stop living,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs has become the epitome of “hard work pays off”.

And while he celebrates his golden anniversary, he continues to build the business one stitch at a time.

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