World Transformation: Capitalism or Socialism?
 Capitalism or Socialism?
18 May 2004 @ 06:32, by ming

From Ming the Mechanic: From Alka Dwivedi, an excerpt from a book "Maverick" by Ricardo Semler, about a Brazilian company that is organized and run in a somewhat unusual manner.
When I took over Semco from my father 12 years ago, it was a traditional company in every respect, with a pyramidal structure and a rule for every contingency. But today our factory workers sometimes set their own production quotas and even come in their time to meet them, without prodding from management or overtime pay. They help redesign the products they make and formulate the marketing plans. Their bosses, for their part, can run our business units with extraordinary freedom, determining business strategy without interference from the top brass. They even set their own salaries, with no strings. Then again, everyone will know what they are, since all financial - information at Semco is openly discussed.

Indeed our workers have unlimited access to our books ( and we keep one set). To show we are serious about this, Semco, with the labor unions that represent our workers, developed a course to teach everyone, even messengers and cleaning people, to read balance sheets and cash flow statements.

For truly big decisions, such as buying another company, everyone at Semco gets a vote. A few years ago, when we wanted to relocate a factory, we closed down for a day and everyone piled into buses to inspect three possible new sites. Then the workers decided. Their choice hardly thrilled us, since it was next to a company that was frequently on strike. But while no one in management wanted front row seats to labor-management strife, we moved in anyway. In the lobby of our headquarters, a standard-issue office building with four floors of steel and glass, there is a reception desk but [no] receptionist. That's the first clue that we are different.

We don't have receptionists. We don't think they are necessary, despite all our visitors. We don't have secretaries either, or personal assistants. We don't believe in cluttering the payroll with ungratifying, dead-end jobs. Everyone at Semco, even top managers, fetches guests, stands over photocopiers, send faxes, type letters, and dials the phone. We don't have executive dining rooms and parking is strictly first-come, first-served. It's all part of running a natural business.

At Semco we have stripped away the unnecessary perks and privileges that feed the ego but hurt the balance sheet and distract everyone from the crucial corporate tasks of making, selling, billing and collecting. Our offices don't even have the usual number of walls. Instead, a forest of plans separates the desks, computers and drawing boards in our work areas. The mood is informal: some people wear suits and ties or dresses, others jeans and sneakers. It does not matter. If people want to emulate Thomas Watson and don white button-downs, that's fine. But turtleneck and T-shirts are okay, too. And I want our people to feel free to put their feet on their desks, just like me.

I am pleased to report that more than once a group of Semco executes has been interrupted by people who wanted to use their conference room to hold a birthday party. They use my room in office to hold conferences. Sometimes when I enter in my room, someone was sitting in my chair, using my phone. I have to wait on visitors' sofa for the meeting to get over.

We have a sales manager named Rubin Agater who sits there reading the newspaper hour after hour, not even making a pretence of looking busy. I am sure this mystifies some of our visitors. Most modern managers would not tolerate it. But when a Semco pump on an oil tanker on the other side of the world fails and millions of gallons of oil are about to spill into the sea, Rubin springs into action. He knows everything there is to know about our pumps and how to fix them. That's when he earns his salary. No one cares if he doesn't look busy the rest of the time.
Sounds like a fun place to work. And it seems to translate into a productive and profitable company. But it also sounds like a socialist commune. Contradiction? Not necessarily. People are more productive when their opinions and their work makes a difference and they aren't hindered by meaningless bureaucracy. This is an inspiring story, and from I can understand, entirely non-fictional, and one can go and visit the company and find out for oneself.


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