There's nothing like group travel as an incentive. That's the philosophy of Tom Phillips, CEO of Phillips International. Phillips took all his employees and their spouses and children — a total of 1,350 people! — on a Disney cruise a couple of months ago to celebrate his company's 30th anniversary. He had taken everyone to Walt Disney World for the 20th.

You might ask, “Is this man crazy?” or you might think he's someone who truly gets it. “I want to do what's right for the long-term health of the employees as well as the business,” he told our writer, Bob Andelman, as they were afloat somewhere out on the Caribbean Sea. “But you still have to be competitive. It's not a bottomless piggy bank you can dip into.”

The reality is that Phillips (the company) is a private company, so it can do something like this. And Phillips (the CEO) knows that there are big payoffs.

We wrote about a similar trip back in 1998, when a small Massachusetts company called Jordan's Furniture took a similar-sized group — the whole company — to Bermuda. The story was splashed across newspapers nationwide, and the private company was purchased by Warren Buffet a year later.

Although they won't be doing this kind of thing again, Jordan's public relations director, Heather Copelas, says people still talk about the trip. “We did it at the time strictly for employee incentive reasons, but we had no idea how long-lasting the effect would be. And we got more employee goodwill and media attention than we ever could have imagined.”

Group travel for people who are not directly tied to the bottom line is likely to remain a rarity, and something that can only be done in a company that is not being scrutinized by shareholders. Its benefits will never be easily quantified. But Tom Phillips is anything but crazy. As one 23-year employee, a senior vice president and publisher of one of Phillips' newsletters, put it: “He's also a good guy to work for in between anniversaries.” How many companies have employees who stay that long — or say that about their leaders?

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