Filed in The Reading Room by on September 23, 2013 0 Comments

By Ricardo Semler

Picture of author Ricardo SemlerIf there’s one time I can’t resist reading a book it’s when somebody says that reading it changed their life.  I feel compelled to rush out immediately and get it so that I too can share in its life-changing wisdom.  I have yet to find a book that has had the same effect on me as it had on the one recommending it, however, I live in hope.  So it was inevitable that when Henry Stewart of Happy Ltd uttered those words in his book,  “The Happy Manifesto”, about “Maverick” that I would read it.

True to form I can’t say that it changed my life, however, it was a really interesting read and I would certainly recommend it both to those who are interested in applying principles of positive psychology to the workplace and to dissenters who do not believe it is possible to create a commercially successful business unless profit is king.

Ricardo Semler took over  Semco,  a Brazilian company, from his father in 1980 and has transformed it from a company run on a traditional command and control management style into an organisation which places employee participation and democracy at its very heart.  This transformation is all the more incredible when you taken into account the corruption, rampant inflation and the stranglehold of the unions on Brazilian industry during this time.

Semler has produced an organisation whereby employees are involved in all major decisions, workers set their own salaries and financial data including salaries is available to all staff; employees are actively encouraged to adopt a work-life balance; the company is organised around core strengths and opportunities for development are open to all staff regardless of formal qualifications.  Correspondence and meetings are reduced to the bare minimum required for efficiency and managers are regularly assessed by their staff for effectiveness.  During his time at the top Semler has tried to eliminate all the bureaucracy and hierarchy that prevents his employees from doing what he hired them to do in the first place.

What makes the book so interesting is Semler’s commitment to both employee democracy and building a profitable business.  Thus the Semler team don’t shy away from difficult decisions, factories do get closed and employees do get laid-off.  However, the decisions are not made by an executive board isolated at the top of the company but by representatives of the entire company and it appears that because the employees share in the success of the company then they tend to take decisions that are right for the company in the longer term rather than short-term decisions based on their own interests.

The book is quite dense in places and at times there is so much detail that it’s easy to get bogged down.  However, the chapters are short and the journey Semler has taken Semco on is such a fascinating read that it carries you through.  The version of the book that I read had an introduction by Semler written in 2001 although the bulk of the book was first published in 1993.  At this time the company was still successful having grown from $35 million in 1993 to $160 million in 2001, however, Semler himself recognises that where the company will be in seven year’s time he doesn’t know.  But that is true for any organisation whether run on traditional lines or not.  I did try to find some up-to-date financial information but I couldn’t find anything in the time I had available that was very recent so if you know of any information please do share it.

Rating 4/5

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