Growing up, Charlie Besser wanted to be a professional golfer, but it became apparent to him pretty early on that professional competition wasn’t in the cards for him.
Despite the death of that dream, he still had a huge interest in sports, and that passion directed his career. Over time, he developed a love for media and event marketing, as well, so in 1985, he married his loves by founding Intersport Inc., a company that specializes in sports television programming, fan and corporate hospitality, and digital media and event marketing.
As he’s grown his company to more than $100 million in annual revenue, another passion has surfaced supporting his people. With 130 employees, this president and CEO wants to make sure that he hires the very best people and, just like a loyal fan, gives them his unfailing devotion.
Smart Business spoke with Besser about why you have to give potential employees the unvarnished truth and how, once you hire them, you have to protect them.
Be really sure before making that hire. Hiring people is the most difficult thing in business. Invest the time upfront. That’s really spending time checking references, asking hard questions, putting the candidates in uncomfortable positions and seeing if they really can stand up.
We’re tough in the interview process. If there’s somebody we really like, we tell them, ‘You may have said some things here in an effort to convince us you’re great, but I would truly ask yourself, before you commit yourself to this organization, make absolute sure that what you’ve told us is what you’re going to deliver because we will know in two months whether it is or if it isn’t. Then you will be disappointed, and we will be disappointed, and you will have wasted your time, and we will have wasted ours.’
If it turns out that you’ve mis-represented yourself, then you’re not going to last long. There’s absolutely no place to hide. We make sure that there is so much information provided to the candidates that we really like so that they know exactly what they’re getting into. We’ve told you everything and given you the unvarnished truth; you’ve got to make sure that what you’ve told us is the unvarnished truth because it’s just not going to work out.
It is such an important exercise because there is so much time associated with someone who turns out not to be good. You invest six months of the year in the person, hoping. You flat out have to take the hope out of it and get as much reality into the process as you can and not hope that somebody is going to be great. Making the wrong decision has such an impact because they’re with you for six months, and they don’t do anything, and then you get rid of them, and you have to go through the process of finding someone else.
Care about people. We just flat out protect our people if they need to be protected if something has gone wrong. If somebody gets stranded or something happens, we’re there. We just are.
That’s nonprofessional stuff, too. If somebody’s mom is ill, we take time out and make sure they’re getting the best doctors.
It’s great to talk about it, but if you don’t do it, the culture will never develop, so it’s years of actively supporting our people and bringing in folks.
As a result, damn near everybody, they don’t just go the extra mile they go the extra 10 miles because they know that everybody in there cares about them. There’s a passion that permeates the place, and there’s an absolute passion to make a difference, make an impact, and take advantage of where we are and the opportunities we have.
Don’t tolerate politics and gossip. We have zero tolerance for office politics. There’s no talking about people behind their back. ...
It’s contrary to the concept of supporting each other if somebody is tearing somebody down. It gets exposed easily and, in fairness, because we support everybody, we ask the people that are doing it to stop. If they don’t, and it has a negative effect on the organization, then we ask them to leave.
It doesn’t happen often. We’re not walking through the halls and throwing people out. But I can think of one instance about eight years ago, we fired all three of the people that were bad-rapping each other. It had gotten to the point where we told them to stop it ... and it kept going. We let them go.
It’s when they’re starting to have the negative effect on the people around them and a negative effect on the organization. There’s no specific line in the sand you just know.
Generally speaking, rarely do you have someone that’s great that’s doing it.
You have to be honest and keep your ears open. Be conscientious of how folks are interacting with each other if you’re paying attention, it becomes pretty obvious. If you’ve set the culture of support and a culture of shared interests, and you’re paying attention and you’re managing the culture, deviations from it stick out, and then you move to stop it.
If it continues, you just ask them to leave. They’ll be happier somewhere else, and we’ll be stronger here. In our company, there are too many great people, and one of my No. 1 obligations is to make sure these folks are getting the opportunities that their greatness deserves.
They’re entitled to work in an atmosphere that is supportive and where there’s shared interest.
HOW TO REACH: Intersport Inc., (312) 661-0616 or www.intersportnet.com