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Manpower is about finding the right man for the job

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In 1976, Phil Blair was expecting his first child and his best friend, Mel Katz, was engaged and going to be married in a few months. Both Blair’s wife and Katz’s fiancé expected to stay in Phoenix, where their men worked as fashion buyers for a local department store.

As the department store grew, Blair and Katz lost some of their freedom and the job started to get more tedious. Katz and Blair knew they wanted to do something new. The only question was, what?

They decided it might be fun to start a business, and tossed around the idea of opening an ice cream parlor. Or maybe do something with pinball. Or maybe start something with ice cream parlors and pinball.

However, Katz’s father owned a Las Vegas franchise of the employment services firm, Manpower, and the two decided they were going to pack up their families and move to San Diego, where they purchased the local Manpower franchise.

Over the course of the next 30 years, Blair and Katz took the company and turned it into the largest Manpower franchise in the United States, with six local branches and annual revenues of more than $100 million.

While at its peak, Manpower in San Diego County was providing almost 4,000 jobs a day. That number has since dropped to about 3,000, Blair said.

Manpower provides temporary workers to various businesses throughout the world. It has more than 4,500 offices in 80 countries. Most of the offices are branches, but some, like the one in San Diego, are franchises with different owners.

Blair described his franchise’s connection with the larger company as being “loose.”

“My only obligation is to not abuse the name 'Manpower,' because that degrades it around the world, and (I would need) to pay a lot of franchise fees,” he said, smiling.

Blair, who spoke to students at California State University, San Marcos’ “In the Executive’s Chair” class, said that buying franchises is a great way to be an entrepreneur without some of the stress of developing one’s own company from scratch.

He said what has enabled him to be successful is having good people surrounding him.

“There isn’t a single person I work with whose job I can do better than they can,” he said.

Blair said that having the right people can make or break a business, and finding those people begins with a potential employee having a set of what he described as “soft skills.”

Soft skills are a person’s ability to get along well with others and having confidence, optimism and a pleasant disposition, Blair said.

“You do business with people you like,” he said. “You’ve got to be comfortable selling yourself and your product to groups of people. Once you can do that, one on one is cake.”

However, not everyone is a fan of Manpower’s services. Some critics have said hiring temporary workers causes others to lose positions where health benefits are involved. Additionally, some critics said temporary workers undercut the pay of permanent workers in a company.

But Blair said those accusations are not true.

Manpower offers its employees (who go off and work for other businesses) vacation time and pay for health care. Additionally, they are paid similarly to their permanent coworkers.

“We want customers that allow us to pay enough to get them good temporary work,” Blair said. “If you want the cheapest temporary firm to pay the lowest wage, don’t come to us.”

Blair said 42 percent of the temporary workers provided by Manpower eventually get hired permanently.

Video: Effective corporate leadership: Phil Blair

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