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What do employers look for in a valuable worker? Tips from Australia's star entrepreneurs

By Yvette McKenzie | 04 October 2018

Australians have always been great entrepreneurs, hard workers and innovators. Here, SkillsTalk speaks with 10 Australian bosses about what they look for in team members and to find out what advice they have for job seekers, or people looking to advance their careers. Here’s what they had to say.

Aussie boss #1:

Lee Klass is an importer of baby products called BetterBump bars. He spent the last couple of years making a nutritional bar aimed at the maternity market in Australia and it’s been so successful that he’s now targeting the Chinese market.

He says that it’s his staff members that have made the difference, with their Australian work-ethic and focus on premium, home-grown ingredients. He says, “To be able to say you’re Australian-made is a powerful statement in China, particularly to expectant or new mothers who tend to be the most particular about clean and green ingredients.”

Photo courtesy: (The Financial Review)

Aussie boss #2:

Bruce Jeffreys is the co-founder of GoGet, an innovative car-sharing scheme. He started the company with his friend Nic Lowe in 2003, and what was originally a modest Sydney start-up with three vehicles and twelve members has since expanded to 30,000 members and 1,100 cars in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne.

He says his staff members have a dynamic attitude and that helps them get ahead. “The most important advice I'd give is actually just to get going. Don't write that business plan, don't sit there pondering all the things that could happen or might happen. Just make a start.”

Photo (cropped) courtesy: (OnyaMagazine)

Aussie boss #3:

Alec Lynch is the founder and CEO of DesignCrowd, an online marketplace that provides graphic design and website services through a “virtual team” of graphic designers from all around the world. He launched the business from his home in 2008 after quitting his job in management consulting, and has since expanded his team of three to 20 and provides services in Australia, the UK, Canada and Asia.

He says it’s the innovative ideas of his potential staff that leads him to give new hires a job. Explaining, “What separates a good idea from a good business is the same thing that separates entrepreneurs from ‘wannapreneurs’ – action.”

Photo (cropped) courtesy: (Business Insider Australia)

Aussie boss #4:

Dick Smith, is an Australian entrepreneur and businessman who has been active in political issues for decades. He says that it’s his workers’ face-to-face customer service skills that sets them apart and has made his companies great. He loves that his staff always focus on the customer first.

“We are obviously putting energy and resources into ensuring that we can meet that target we’ve set ourselves. We are offering customers choice and allowing them to really shop with us in any environment they chose to,” the boss says.

Photo courtesy: (ABC)

Aussie boss #5:

Nicole Kersh is the founder of 4Cables, an online retailer specialising in technology cabling for consumers. She started the company in 2004 when she was just 21. 4Cables became incredibly successful and Kersch went on to win a number of awards including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2013.

She says that she looks for staff members who have good relationships with their former employees. “If you’re an entrepreneur in the true sense of the word, chances are you’ll be strategically planning an exit,” she says. “If your exit is not planned correctly, with adequate legal and financial advice it can get quite complicated.”


Photo (cropped) courtesy: (Nicole Kersh)

Aussie boss #6:

Mick Liubinskas is a veteran start-up entrepreneur and advisor. This businessman co-founded incubator Pollenizer, an “incubation and acceleration program” designed to help entrepreneurs and big companies get started.

He says it’s always important to plan your next move. “If you raise money, do it, but put 80 per cent in a term deposit and pretend you don’t have it;” he advises. “Put it under the mattress for a rainy day.” His team members need to be flexible, he says. “Their space is designed for the flex we need because we’ll have six people one week, then we’ll have started three more companies and have 20 people the next.”


Photo courtesy: (Pollenizer)

Aussie boss #7:

Steve Baxter is one of Australia’s most successful technology business people. He is known for his work on TV’s The Shark Tank and has mentored Australian business men and women for decades now.

He says that when he’s looking for effective team members, they have to have a great “team mentality”, then he knows they’ll be up for the job. “People need to move beyond their “flying solo” mindset,” he explains. “This means moving beyond my ‘give up your day job’ advice, and going one step further by surrounding themselves with appropriate experts or expertise across all areas of a venture.”

Photo (cropped) courtesy: (Spacecubed)

Aussie boss #8:

Michelle Bridges is an Australian personal trainer, author and TV personality from TV’s The Biggest Loser. She’s now been named in BRW’s Rich Women’s List. Her advice (surprisingly) is to “take it easy sometimes” and says she surrounds herself with staff members she knows she can trust when she needs a break.

“In the past year I’ve dialled it down and pulled it back a little,” the trainer says. “It’s been better for me (and the business) as it makes me realise when I’ve been chasing my tail.” Her team members are key to keeping her on track, she says. “It’s also given me a chance to get my creativity back, which gets lost when I’m eyeball deep on getting it done.”

Photo courtesy: (Michelle Bridges)

Aussie boss #9:

Lesley Gillespie is one of the creators of iconic brand Bakers’ Delight (the other founder is her husband Roger). They started the business back in 1980 and it’s now worth a whopping $75 million.

She says that the one thing she values in her staff is authenticity. “If we were operating like we were in 1980, we wouldn’t have a business,” the entrepreneur believes. “It’s an ongoing balance of being authentic and moving with the times. You’ve got to be always looking for a better way of doing things to stay relevant.”

Photo courtesy (cropped): (Smart Company)

Aussie boss #10:

Darren Herft is the cofounder and CEO of Australian music streaming website Guvera. The mega site now has about 5.5 million members worldwide and has moved into the UK. He says that when he looks for team members, he tries to find people that will be with him for “the long haul.”

“We want to create deep, long-lasting relationships with brands and advertisers,” he says, and we want to provide branded entertainment experiences to consumers in a non-disruptive way.” He always takes the time to praise his staff and cites them as one of the reasons for his company’s success. “We’re delighted that all of the hard work our team have put in is being recognised by consumers in multiple regions.”

Photo (cropped) courtesy: (The Courier Mail)

Every businessman has their own set of personality traits and skills when it comes to determining what they value in an effective worker. Hopefully, the insight of these 10 mega-successful Australian entrepreneurs has provided insight into what is most commonly looked for in a quality team member, as well as some inspiration for those looking to pursue their own entrepreneurial goals.

For more actionable advice on progressing your career, head on over to our archive of career-related articles here on SkillsTalk.  

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