Business Engineers

A global coaching franchise has become the number one business coaching company in the world – and South Africa – by taking clients to ever greater achievement and success, and giving franchisees hundreds of proven systems and strategies that are guaranteed to get results.

Business Engineers

ActionCoach is internationally recognised as the biggest global business coaching firm and one of the top franchises in the world today.

Launched in 1993 by then 20-something-year-old Australian Brad Sugars, the franchise has helped thousands of businesses and their owners around the world to get more time, build better teams in their companies — and more money on their bottom-line — through a set of systems and strategies that are guaranteed to provide results.

A lucky coincidence

The franchise system was introduced to South Africa in 2007 by Harry Welby-Cooke and Pieter Scholtz, who are the master licensees for the brand. The two had never met, and unbeknown to either of them, they entered into negotiations with the US team at almost the same time. Veterans of the corporate world, they had both had enough of long hours, extensive travelling and zero family time.

“I was 45, I’d spent 22 years in the corporate world, and I was on the board of a multi-national FMCG firm for eight years, working extremely long hours,” says Scholtz. “I remember trying to discipline my 11-year-old who looked at me and said, ‘What do you care? You’re never here.’ I realised then that my wife was raising our child as a single mother.”

Welby-Cooke, who had been with Standard Bank for 12 years at the time, found himself in a pretty similar place. “I wanted to spend more time with my family,” he says. “I started thinking about going into management consulting because I had seen, from working in the bank’s credit division, that there was a big gap between the theory behind a business plan and its application in the real world. That was what prompted me to think about coaching as a service to business owners.”

It was serendipity that brought the two together as they searched for the right business opportunity. When it became clear that ActionCoach’s head office was keen to give both of them master licences, they decided to meet and the rest, as they say, is history.

“We simply had no time to mistrust each other,” says Scholtz. “We quickly booked a stand at the Franchise Expo and signed an advertising deal with Entrepreneur magazine. We had agreed on the strategy, and it was clear that there was great synergy between us.”

Scholtz adds that as a middle-aged male, he was also driven by the need to plan for his future. “Having had an HR background, there was no way I was going to buy a chicken franchise, for example. I wanted to do something that would really let me put my skills and experience to work for the benefit of other business owners.”

The worst time to start a business

The partners faced three massive challenges at the time. The global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, considered by many economists to be the worst since the Great Depression, had hit South Africa hard. There was no finance to be had anywhere.

“On top of that,” says Welby-Cooke, “no one in South Africa really knew what business coaching was. The third major issue, of course, was that although ActionCoach was already a global brand, no one in the country had ever heard of it. We had to launch an unknown company in an unfamiliar sector at the worst possible time.”

One factor that was on their side, says Scholtz, was that ActionCoach was the number one coaching company in the world. “I remember reading Jack Welch and him saying, ‘be number one or number two. When you’re number four or five in a market, when number one sneezes, you get pneumonia.

When you’re number one, you control your destiny.’ That’s why we chose a brand that was at the top which, I think, made a huge difference to our success in the local market. Also, we had both worked for very well branded companies, and we knew the value that would come from the consistency that a leading brand offers.”

Building for the long-term

In the first two years of acquiring the master licence, Scholtz and Welby-Cooke spent a lot of time at expos and advertising in the print media to build awareness of the brand. But after a number of expos in which they had only sold one franchise in addition to those sold off advertising in Entrepreneur magazine, the number of leads started to decline too.

“It was time to do something fundamentally different,” says Scholtz. “It struck both of us that we were in this business for the long haul, and that educating the market would take time. That’s when we agreed that we needed a public relations plan. We engaged with Tracy O’Brien Publicity in February 2009 and we haven’t looked back since.”

PR has been the major driver of ActionCoach’s success in South Africa. The company’s long-term strategy to educate the market about business coaching and about ActionCoach in particular has paid off well. “Five years ago no one knew who we were,” says Welby-Cooke. “Today, people tell us they see the brand everywhere. It takes time, but PR opens doors eventually.”

 “It also means that as competitors arrive on the scene, they see the scale of what we have done in the market and they are simply unable to compete. It will take them years to achieve what we have, and we had the benefit of starting from scratch so that we are now synonymous with business coaching in a way that no other business can hope to achieve in this space.”

The returns show just how successful the franchise is. ActionCoach has achieved compound growth of 25% every year for the past four years, from 2009. There are a total of 29 franchisees in southern Africa today, including two in Namibia and one in Kenya. The partners hope to grow that number to 150, with at least 50 franchisees in Gauteng.

What is business coaching?

Just as you can’t build a house without a plan, so you can’t build a business without having a blueprint for success.

Growing a business can be overwhelming for the entrepreneur. Who do you hire? How do you get more customers? What should your sales strategy be? How can you increase profitability? Typically, they have no one to talk to and they are not accountable to anybody for the decisions they make.

This can be a lonely experience that leaves them feeling trapped and isolated. The objective perspective offered by an outsider who can give advice and opinions can be of great advantage. A business coach can help you pave the way for real expansion, says Welby-Cooke.

“Business coaching shows business owners how to apply business basics to improve the direction of their company and meet their own needs at the same time. By using proven business coaching programmes and systems that deliver results, the process teaches business owners the fundamentals of running a successful company. Business coaches help you clarify the goals you have for your business so that you also have time to allocate to your personal life and family. Coaches help business owners achieve true business success through analysis and systems implementation. The aim is to help people who are self-employed to build a profitable commercial enterprise that works without them. That’s because systems should run a business, not the owner.”

The ideal franchisee

To become an ActionCoach franchisee, you have to be passionate about business and life. The thought of finding better and more efficient ways of improving a company’s bottom line should set your pulse racing. “We look at people with various levels of education, from matric to an MBA,” says Welby-Cooke.

“We also look for a track record of business success and experience, whether in the corporate world or as an entrepreneur.  Then there is personality and attitude. You have to be the kind of person who is constantly striving to succeed and to help others. A blend of all these qualities is important. We don’t believe you can become a business coach at age 20, for example. If you do not have the right background, you will not be a successful coach. It’s vital for us to choose the right franchisees because this is a professional services business. The wrong choice can affect the brand negatively.”

Both partners emphasise that franchisees have to be prepared to work hard. One-to-one coaching sessions with an ActionCoach franchisee averages around R10 000 per month, which is the minimum recommendation.

Franchisee support

ActionCoach gives entrepreneurs, typically people who are embarking on a second career, the opportunity of buying a business and becoming a business coach.

“The reality is that we practice what we preach in how the organisation is run, from the head office in the US, all the way down to the franchisee,” says Welby-Cooke. “We all use the same templates, the same tools and the same systems. We live by these because we know they work.”

Franchisees are provided with three weeks of pre-training in SA, after which there is a two-week classroom-based training session in the US. Upon returning, start-up is immediate. “All franchisees receive ongoing support and development assistance.”

This includes:

  • An international webinar every Monday at 8:00am
  • Attendance at global and national conferences
  • Refresher training twice a year
  • A CD of the month, every month, from the best coaches in the world
  • A book of the month
  • An intranet forum
  • Access to a vast amount of archived information.

The ActionCoach 17-week guarantee to clients

ActionCoach guarantees to get results, and that clients will be able to ‘find their coach’s fee’ in their business within 17 weeks, or the coaching is free. The programmes have been tested and proven all over the world.

Whether it’s about more time, a better team or more money, the promise to clients is that if they make a good-faith effort and do the required work assigned to them, attend all coaching sessions and agreed-upon events and workshops, and complete all committed decisions and homework assignments on agreed-upon dates, the results will be measurable.

MEET The Master Licensees for ActionCoach South Africa

Pieter Scholtz

  • Studied at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of Stellenbosch Business School and UCT Graduate School of Business
  • In 1991 he joined Cadbury-Schweppes and remained within the group for 16 years reaching directorship level
  • In 2003 he was appointed to the board of Cadbury South Africa. He was part of the leadership team that managed the complex integration of Cadbury-Schweppes beverage and its confectionery interests.

Harry Welby-Cooke

  • Served a 12-year career in banking
  • He filled a number of executive management positions across retail banking, credit and risk management
  • He was instrumental in the successful new approach to credit sanctioning and financing of business loans which benefited thousands of fledgling entrepreneurs
  • Is president of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors Association of South Africa).

Fancy yourself a franchisee?

Vital Stats

  • Founded in: 1993 internationally; 2007 in SA
  • Founder: Brad Sugars
  • Master Franchisors in SA: Pieter Scholtz, Harry Welby-Cooke


  • Minimum investment required: Entry level is R425 000 for a single-user practice; R495 000 for a premium practice with three licences; R1,5 million for a fully-fledged business coaching practice
  • Monthly royalty: No royalties for first three months, thereafter from R9 000 per month
  • Marketing fee: 5%
  • Unencumbered capital requirement: 50%


  • Expected time from signing agreement to opening for business: Immediate, after the US training process
  • Average time for return on investment: Six to nine months


  • Hot spots for development: Nationally
Monique Verduyn
About the Author
Monique Verdyun is a regular contributor to Franchise Zone. Franchise Zone is published by Entrepreneur Media SA. It offers advice and franchising opportunities in South Africa.

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