‘We figured that people will accomplish more,’ he said, ‘if they [the employees] are given an opportunity to use their talents and abilities in the way they work best.’

Dave Packard

Choosing Your Boss

During the 1980s, as business was getting to grips with a personal computing revolution, one company in Brazil was fomenting a revolution of a different kind. Ricardo Semler took over the family business Semler & Co. in 1980. Semler was on the verge of leaving at the time, frustrated at his father’s unwillingness to give up his authority. But, at the last minute, Semler’s father decided to hand over control of the business to his son. He then set off for a break with the words: ‘whatever changes you want to make in the organization, do them now.’

Semler noted his father’s words, fired 60 per cent of the management team in the first week, and set about engineering a radical implementation of industrial democracy. Determined to remove any hint of autocratic control under his leadership, the measures carried out over the next few years went far beyond any usual steps to empower the workforce. To start with, Semler restructured the organization basing it on small teams, where each team was responsible for its own budgets and its own targets.

But this was just the beginning. Faced with a recession in the 1990s, Semco embarked on a round of cost cutting, but in agreement with the employees. Management took a substantial pay cut. And while other wages were also cut, productivity ...

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