For nearly 25 years, Ricardo Semler, CEO of Brazil-based Semco, has let his employees set their own hours, wages, even choose their own IT. The result: increased productivity, long-term loyalty and phenomenal growth. Semler’s a CEO-who- manages-least- manages-best approach. Can his radical approach work for you?
One afternoon, while touring a pump factory in Baldwinsville, N.Y., Semler collapsed on the shop floor. After resting in a doctor’s office for a few hours, he traveled on to his appointments in the Boston area. Once there, he took the advice of the Baldwinsville doctor, and checked into the Lahey Clinic for some exams. “After amortizing all of their machinery, they told me I had nothing,” Semler recalls. “But the doctor told me that if I kept going like I was, I would soon be using their brand-new cardiac wing. He walked me through it and showed me how good the hotel structure of that wing was, how much I was going to like it. I got the message.”
In the months that followed, Semler determined to balance his work and personal life more carefully, and to do the same for his employees—all while improving Semco’s fortunes. To his great relief, he discovered he didn’t have to reconcile these two goals: The more freedom he gave his staff to set their own schedules, the more versatile, productive and loyal they became, and the better Semco performed.
Nor did he stop with flextime. He did away with dedicated receptionists, org charts, even the centra office—it now resembles an airlines’ VIP lounge, with people working in different areas each day. He encouraged employees to suggest what they should be paid, to evaluate their bosses, to learn each other’s jobs, and to tolerate dissent—even when divisive. He set up a profit-sharing system and insisted that the company’s financials be published internally, so that everyone could see how the company was doing.
Semco hit some bumps and yet, despite a recession and staggering inflation in Brazil, the company grew, and, by 1993, Semler had a spirited turnaround story to tell. His first book, Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace, became an international bestseller (it’s more Rocky than The Firm), and laid out his unorthodox, if strikingly commonsense approaches—no dress code, voluntary meetings, mandatory vacation time. read more —->