The 6 Greatest Hiring Decisions of All Time


by Jas Singh

We all have icons in business and in life. Often these people are well known and highly successful – celebrity like in status. And like all true leaders they inspire us. We seek to emulate them and to learn from them.

However everyone starts somewhere. Everyone at some time requires someone to give them a break. Behind all these successful people is a successful hiring manager. Someone who saw their potential and allowed them to flourish.

This post describes some of the greatest ever hiring decisions and seeks to credit the hiring managers that made them.


Great Hiring Decision 11) Dennis Swanson

Who he hired? Oprah Winfrey

Even the legend that is Oprah needed a helping hand. Back in 1983 Chicago was a very different place and racial tensions had been running high with Harold Washington recently being elected Mayor. Dennis Swanson was then General Manager at ABC. On his first day in the job as program director, his Chicago AM host walked out. Running through video clips of possible candidates Swanson was impressed by a young Oprah but was unsure whether she could handle a large show on her own. So he called her in for a video interview. The rest as they say is history. Even Oprah herself has mentioned that it was a massive risk and that “there is no way he’s going to hire a black woman”. Dennis Swanson went on to become President of State Operations at Fox.


Great Hiring Decision 22) Nolan Bushnell

Who he hired? Steve Jobs

Nolan Bushnell is the founder of Atari and hired a 19 year old Steve Jobs on $5 an hour as a developer. At the time Jobs was still trying to figure out what he was trying to do with his life. Bushnell realised immediately that the young Jobs was a prolific visionary who wanted to change the world – however he was also very difficult to work with. So he created a new “night time” shift – where Jobs could be left to work on his own ideas and the rest of the company could get out his way. 2 years later Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple. Now in his 70’s Nolan Bushnell is still an active and legendary entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.


Great Hiring Decision 33) Sandy Weill

Who he hired? Jamie Dimon

Jamie Dimon is the man famously described as the president’s “favourite banker”. Like him or not, one thing you have to say is that he has always been there taking the flack for JP Morgan Chase. (Can you name ANY of the other CEO’s that have been summoned by the various legislators?). Now one of the most successful people on Wall Street, following his graduation from Harvard, he turned down more lucrative offers to work at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers. To go and work for Sandy Weill at American Express. Why? Because Weill promised him that they would have “fun”. Next time us hiring managers interview a candidate we like, maybe we could try promising them fun?


Greatest Hiring Decision 44) Bobby Robson

Who he hired? Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho is arguably the most successful football (or soccer for my American friends) coach in the world today. In a relatively short career he has already won more than 20 major trophies. However unlike most other managers today, Mourinho was not a very successful player and opportunities to enter management were limited. His big break came in 1992 when at 29 years old he was offered a job as an interpreter by Bobby Robson; himself one of the most successful British coaches of his generation. Not only did Robson see the potential in Mourinho, he also rapidly accelerated him from a translator to an assistant coach and hired him for the next two clubs that he managed. This education was trademark of the late Bobby Robson and provided the basis for Mourinho to become the world class coach he is today.


Greatest Hiring Decision 55) Sir Almroth Wright

Who he hired? Sir Alexander Fleming

Sir Almroth Wright (1861 – 1947) was a British bacteriologist. In 1903 he hired a 20 year old student called Alexander Fleming who had good experience in the sciences but who had been working in a shipping office for the past 4 years. 25 years later in 1928 (yes 25 years later – would we wait that long for results in our own companies?), Fleming accidently discovered penicillin. And changed the course of the world. Accidental yes, but he had to be in the lab in the first place to make the discovery. One last thought – Wright warned early on that although highly useful in the short term, antibiotics would create resistant bacteria. Something that has proven an increasing danger today.


Greatest Hiring Decisions 66) Lazar Sidelsky

Who he hired? Nelson Mandela

Lazar Sidelsky was a South African attorney and his firm Witkin, Sidelsky & Eidelman pioneered the employment of Black People in South Africa during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Amongst them was a young Nelson Mandela who had recently relocated to Johannesburg. Sidelsky gave him the opportunity to qualify as a lawyer – in defiance with the government at the time. Mandela considered him to be the first white man to treat him with respect. Other than employment he took a genuine interest in Nelson Mandela’s welfare and future and taught him the importance of education – arguing that only mass education would free the African people.

As hiring managers we should remember that in meeting our immediate needs we are also looking for potential. If we invest in the right people today, tomorrow can be amazing for all of us.


Jas Singh

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