Avroy Shlain: People are the Key to Success

Avroy Shlain: People are the Key to Success


Avroy Shlain is virtually a household name in South Africa. Today, the founder of one the country’s largest direct selling cosmetics houses heads up Cobb International, a much smaller enterprise that Shlain has taken from near bankruptcy to double digit growth.

“One of the earliest lessons I learnt as a manager of Coty was to always employ people who were more talented than me,” he says. The lesson has served him well, and over the years he has developed what he coins the ‘Avroy Shlain Babushka theory’.

“Once you accept that you cannot be everything to everyone, you can focus on what you are really good at, and find other highly capable people to assist you,” he explains.

The theory is simple. If a manager (or business owner) is worried that their subordinates will outshine them, they will hire people who they know will be weaker than them. This creates a culture of managers who do not want to be outshone and gradually the entire team starts bordering on incompetence.

Likened to Babushka dolls, where each doll fits inside the next until there is a final, tiny doll at the centre of the set, Shlain sees this short-sighted approach to business as detrimental to overall growth.

“If the focus is on real business growth, you want the best of the best – even if that means hiring people whose knowledge and abilities in certain areas surpass yours. That’s the point. If you’re honest with yourself, you will realise where your gaps lie. And then all you need to do is find the best person to balance those gaps. This doesn’t threaten your position as business owner, manager or team leader. If anything it shows what kind of leader you are – the kind who can assemble a team that really gets things done.”


Always employ people who are better than you.