Here's how badly Brandon Phillips wanted to become an entrepreneur: He turned down a dream job with the Detroit Pistons basketball team.
Phillips, who played college hoops in Michigan, came to Fort Myers in 2004 to lead sales and marketing for the Florida Flame, part of the NBA Development League, the minor league version of basketball.
When the Pistons came calling in 2005, Phillips turned them down. His reason? He had an idea to create a firm that would provide employee background checks.
Instead of joining the Pistons, Phillips rented a 150-square-foot office, barely large enough for him, an intern from Florida Gulf Coast University and three computers. His first client was Bonita Bay Group, a developer of luxury communities. “I landed that account and it kept the doors open,” he says.
His secret to land new customers: “I could outwork the competition,” Phillips says.
Today, Global HR Research has 80 employees working in 26,000 square feet of office space near Interstate 75 in Fort Myers. Phillips declines to disclose revenues, but they rose 60% last year compared with 2011, he says. The firm now has more than 1,500 clients, many of them Fortune 500 companies, he says.
While he had landed customers such as Naples hospital operator Health Management Associates by 2007, Phillips found it challenging to finance his company's growth. “I was still struggling to capitalize the company,” he says.
So Phillips sold a majority stake of his business to Austin Shanfelter, the former CEO and president of Miami-based contracting giant MasTec. Shanfelter funded the company's operations during the bleakest time of the economic downturn in 2008 and became chairman of Global HR. “He was looking to buy a company like this because he saw what MasTec was spending,” Phillips recalls.
Global HR is now growing so fast that it needs more capital to handle the growth. “We're in the second half of a planned capital raise,” says Phillips, who declines to disclose further details. By the end of 2014, Phillips expects he'll have 150 employees, nearly double the current staff.
A single mom in Michigan raised Phillips, 35, after his father died at an early age. He learned responsibility and self-reliance early. “I was the man of the house,” he says.
Organization is key, says Phillips, who fills a legal notepad every month and uses technology such as live chats and electronic calendars. “Time management is huge,” says the Sanibel resident.
The trim CEO is modest about his workout routine. “I run a little bit,” he says, noting he's got a sprint triathlon in his sights. Relaxing means spending time with his children, two dogs and teaching himself to play guitar. His current repertoire includes Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles and Van Morrison.