Finding stars, letting them shine

Philip Weinman has built and sold seven businesses and made a fortune. He says the key has been to hire the right people.

When Philip Weinman was 21, he walked out of his first job in disgust. His boss kept stealing his ideas and presenting them as his own. He vowed to never be employed again – and to treat his own staff differently.

Now at 51, has built and sold seven businesses, including CTS Travel and has made millions of dollars. His success? Brilliant hiring and maintaining the DNA of his startup – even as growth goes gangbusters.

Philip Weinman tells his story:

“One of the first questions that I ask when employing staff is: ‘Are you intelligent?’ It is out of the box and they are not expecting it. I wait for a look that says that’s a silly question and then I wait for them to tell me they are intelligent.

This quickly establishes the fact they can think fast and deal with something unplanned. It also means they have self-confidence and they can back themselves in business.

Hire the successfully employed:

I hire young people – either straight out of university or under 30. They are always successfully employed so we head-hunt them. We head-hunt people or ask our employees for recommendations because they know what is expected.

By the time they are 30, most people are set in their ways and have bad habits. They have usually worked for a corporate and are used to rules and saying no. People I hire never say “no” or “but”.

I don’t want people talking in the interview about their old boss and I don’t want to know why they are leaving their old job. I never want to hear about why they were unsuccessful at their past job. This shows they are not loyal and they won’t be loyal to me.

Break some rules:

I also do something I shouldn’t in an interview. I always ask about their families. I lighten up the interview and get them to talk about their values and their lives. I want to hear their thoughts on politics because I want people who can express an opinion and are not afraid to do so. I don’t want people who try and tell me what I want to hear.

I also hire people who haven’t worked in the industry. For example, when I started CTS Travel, I was a frustrated business traveller and felt I could start a company that was very professional and understood the needs of business travellers.

I didn’t hire travel agents, as usually their motivation for taking jobs in the travel industry was to get cheap travel. Instead I hired secretaries who were organised, had a nice manner and who knew the repercussions of bad travel management because in their past lives it meant their bosses had to stay overnight somewhere.

Don’t pay too much salary:

We pay market rates and I give them a budget and when they exceed the budget, they get profit share. I had people earning over $100,000 when their counterparts in the travel industry were getting $35,000. Too much salary and they don’t succeed.

When people start in my companies, we give them six months training. We have poached these people from successful jobs and we feel we need to back them with training so they have the best chance of success.

I never bring someone from outside the company and employ them over the top of people. I always employ from within. One bad apple can bring whole team down.

My PA is running the company:

We head-hunt people or ask our employees for recommendations because they know what is expected. We make up teams of four or five people. The best performers become the team leader. Then they move up and someone else takes over as team leader. It’s like a wave of talent that keeps sweeping over the organisation. There is very little turnover and lots of room for advancement. My PA became the HR manager, then operations manager and now runs all my companies. She knew what I was looking for.

I once made the mistake of bringing in an outsider to run the HR function. They didn’t understand the culture so now we create the HR function from within.

The only danger comes from the entrepreneur. If you start to lose leadership or vision, you can go off on your own agenda. Then you can’t get the staff behind you.

I recently did a very challenging acquisition of an online business. I had bought the business MindAtlas in 2002 and had inherited a “creative” culture. The people had no goals, vision and little discipline.

We had to slowly weed out people who didn’t want to take on responsibility and accountability. Two years later none of the original staff were left. I recently sold that company and did very well out of it.

Now I have three new businesses: one is Vitamin Me which has four stores and is growing rapidly. The second is an employment company, JobCapital, and the third is Goal Management, a sports and elite management business. A few will be floated in the next few years.

Have fun, make profit

I am in business for two reasons: to make a profit and to have fun. Making sure you have the right DNA and keeping it while you grow makes sure you achieve both goals.


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