a peek at another extraordinary Monterey Peninsulan who will
appear in my forthcoming book StarWords:
Stardust Inspiration: Talk
about tenacity! This tennis tycoon, who taught Lee Iacocca how
to play, broke every bone in his foot (21) and intends to return
to the game. Doctors told him he’d never walk correctly again.
Yet he jumped up and down when I met him . . . Peter Burwash
also has a humble and rewarding recipe for business success: the
CEO and president are the least important people in a company.
This user-friendly man now travels the world with words of
inspiration for Fortune 500 companies as well as teens.
World Improvement according to Peter Burwash
Canadian-born Peter Burwash is, on paper, a supremely successful
man. The international tennis management empire he founded 29
years ago, PBI, is the world’s largest, operating in 32
countries. But that’s only a piece of the pie. He has written 10
books - on everything from tennis to teen suicide and nutrition.
He travels the world, giving motivational speeches to Fortune
500 companies. And, the 7-year Association of Tennis
Professionals Tennis tour competitor - who won 19 international
singles and doubles titles - was just inducted into the Toronto
Sports Hall of Fame.
says that while PBI is headquartered in Texas, he works out of
his home in Carmel Valley. “I don’t work at headquarters because
they (employees) become too dependent on me. I’m at the bottom
of a reverse triangle.”
meeting is casual. No business suit or hangman’s noose around
his neck, he wears Hush Puppies and a checkered short-sleeved
shirt. There’s love in his household and he makes no bones about
the fact that his galloping golden retriever and two daughters,
one with whom he travels to India yearly to feed the hungry, are
travel to 40-50 countries a year,” he says. “If my plane goes
down in a couple weeks, I’ve had the most unbelievable life in
tennis. It’s been my passport to life, really. And if I hadn’t
been flying, I wouldn’t have met Lynn, my incredible wife of 20
She was a flight attendant on one of my trips.”
learn that this tenacious 59-year-old, who never broke a bone
playing tennis and hockey, fell two years ago while changing a
light bulb and shattered 21 bones in his foot.
doctor said I’d never run or walk properly. They wanted to
operate and put in metal. But I said, ‘No, I go through too many
healing nicely and jumps up and down to prove it. “I’m finally
walking without a limp. And I WILL return to tennis.”
A: Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself. It means
thinking of yourself less.
Name some laws for success.
A: I have a very unique philosophy: the president of the company
is the least important person in the company. Your No. 1 goal is
to take care of the employees . . . The most important quality
to have is humility, and that’s very difficult for men to
understand. When I’m interviewing someone, the first quality I
look for is humility and empathy. From there, are they willing
to change, learn and grow? I feel the purpose of a great company
is to make great people - not to make money.
Share some creative workplace ideas.
A: Employees need naps. The body is supposed to have a 15-minute
catnap eight hours after you wake up. Also, I’ve never yelled at
an employee in 30 years. Anger is one letter short of danger.
Every one of our pros and staff has mandatory one-month
vacations. Appreciation is the No. 1 driving force in human
When did the tennis bug bite you?
A: At 12. My mother and I had arguments, which kids do, so she
sent me out of the house with my tennis racquet and said, “Go
play tennis.” I won the match and when I brought home the
trophy, she didn’t believe me. A week later, I won all the
Quebec championships for the under-13 division.
A: My life has been one of intense passion not to quit. I won on
sheer guts. Within a two-week period, I was No. 3 player in
Canada. Success breeds interest. That’s the tennis bug.
What is the secret to the game?
A: It begins with passion: the secret to success in any field.
Secondly, you really do need a good teacher to make progress.
Do you grunt when you serve?
A: I didn’t. I was teaching women this morning and they grunted
every time they had an overhead. I said, “Don’t tell your
opponent you’re straining. Be quiet. You want a poker face.”
You’ve schmoozed with legendary CEOs. Who are your heroes?
A: I have two heroes as managers. I’m very good friends with
Issy Sharp, the founder of Four Seasons Hotels. He was my
sponsor on the pro tennis tour. The other is Sir Richard
Branson, chairman of the Virgin companies and the most
entrepreneurial guy on the planet right now. He walks up and
down airplanes and asks every passenger how he can make flight
better for them. He was the first one to put TVs and Internet on
planes and he’s putting in exercise machines on his next set of
jets. (Laughs) They threw him out of schools when he was 14. He
You met Nelson Mandela. What did you learn from him?
A: Lack of revenge. I asked him the question: “In America
there’s a lot of revenge for what was done 100 years ago. How
will you avoid that?” The example he gave was that in the front
row of his inauguration ceremony he’d invited all the white
prison guards from Robben Island (where Mandela spent 18 of his
27 years of imprisonment). To me, he didn’t have to go any
further. That was the Gandhi thing: an eye for an eye makes the
whole world blind.
You average one speech every five days. Do you open with
something better than “I’m so glad to be here”?
A: I very rarely say that. (Sighs) I try not to use the word “I”
. . .
What do you and Lee Iacocca have in common?
A: We both enjoy a challenge. I’ve taught him tennis. He’s a
great learner as most leaders are. Pretty intense.
a) winning in tennis
b) sharing wisdom with others
c) becoming more honest
d) confronting fears
A: I’d say success is understanding that the highest honor in
life is to be of service.
What is something in your nature you still wish to overcome?
A: We (PBI) constantly ask all our people to answer this
question. I’m still working on empathy. As a male, I still have
the tendency to want to solve the problem rather than to
empathize. The second thing is having patience with
transportation security. Monterey airport is the most difficult.
When do you let all the balls drop?
A: (Grins) I don’t ever feel I’ve worked a day in my life.
How do you handle laying off any of your 100 professionals?
A: We’ve never laid anybody off. We’ll all take a pay cut first.
I totally disagree with laying people off. They have mortgages
to pay. They gave me part of their life. We make the effort to
improve rather than remove.
Your most menial job?
A: Cleaning toilets at a paint factory at age 19. But my
philosophy from an early age was: “There is no menial job, just
a menial attitude.” In our company, we all take out the garbage.
Where's your next seminar destination?
A: To Guam to do a parent-teen seminar for about 1,000 people .
. . And to Alaska to train the staff on Crystal cruises. And I’m
saying to myself, “What am I gonna teach these people?”
Universal Update: Well, it’s
only been a year, but I had to know whether Burwash has, indeed,
returned to tennis. He was in Florida when I called but left
this on my answering machine: “Two months ago, I had my first
tennis game. Guess who with? Rupert Murdoch. The doctors said
I’d never run a game again. It’s nice to finally get out.”