My Favourite Business Book of All Time

Maverick written by Ricardo Semler in Brazil published in 1993. A transformational business book from start to finish. Completely counter what you’d come to expect from a Ricardo Semler MaverickBrazilian industrial tycoon. I think Mr. Semler is one of the most thought-provoking, honest, most humble leaders I’ve ever come across.

Semco, a heavy duty industrial manufacturer has no rules to live by. You pick your own hours, pick your own pay, pick your own vacation times, heck you even vote on your own managers regularly! Twice a year you fill out a 30 question questionnaire about your management and division you work in.

No one has a long term contact. No one is employed longer than 6 months. Everyone’s salary is openly known by anyone who cares to know.

Semco is the most democratic company I’ve ever read about, and they did it in a 1980’s Brazilian economy. Not the beacon of sought after economies you once thought, on the contrary, Brazil was avoid by many businesses because of the government, high inflation rates, and a fast growing unpredictable future. It’s astounding what Ricardo and Semco accomplished during this period in Brazil.

How did they get it so right?

Ricardo lucked out in a sense, his father build a multi-million dollar company. He became of age and realized it would never last in its current state. Plus the fact that second generation wealth is squandered 70% of the time, Ricardo had to make a gamble.

He was courageous in his decisions but the theme throughout his career and the book was that he cared (and still cares) dearly about people. It’s so refreshing to see in someone like him in a leadership role, putting people before profits.

Telling, forcing, commanding, never works. Inspiring, helping, listening, always does.

One of the most innovative business models of the last two centuries has come from Brazil

What if you could pick your own salary?

Would you pay yourself a lot? Putting a certain “expectation” on your work? Or would you pay yourself very little so not to put too much responsibility on yourself. Ricardo wanted everyone to pick their own salary, almost everyone thought he was crazy. It was very smart when you think about what he did. Each employee (even executives) only had a six month contract. If you want to over-pay your self you may be looking for a new job in six months. So the “pick your own salary” days began at Semco.

First the Executive picked salaries. Of the 6 Executives, 5 decided upon salaries that were less than the company had predicted. The one Executive that set a salary 30% higher than expected was headhunted 6 months later to a larger company. Ricardo remarked “he was most certainly worth the 30% premium we paid him”. A very humbling way to look at the relationship of payer and payee.

What is “Natural Business”?

Ricardo refers to it a “natural business”. You know, where companies make logical decisions, leadership believes in people, and companies have a noble purpose. Sadly this is rarely the case. For some reason I’ve always longed for this style of business. A business run more by Karma then by any policy.

One of the first things that Ricardo did away with at Semco was the metal detector at the entrance and exit of the plant. Why would you have to subject your people to this type of treatment if you trust them? Ricardo asked of the metal detectors, a long time combatant of theft. What if instead we simply trust our people?

If everyone on your team gets Karma, do you really need anything else? Ricardo didn’t seem to think so. Rules and policies are in place to show authority, to encourage discipline. But what if you trust those you work with? Even the leaders? What if people don’t need more discipline but less? 

Some other items in the corporate graveyard included executive parking stalls, as Ricardo put is, “why do you need a special parking spot? Shouldn’t who ever showed up first get the first spot and so on? That seems more natural.” 

Along with Executive parking stalls, executive washrooms were done away with, admin assistance, as well the yearly leadership retreat was much less lavish than in prior years. This part of the book Ricardo gives an honest opinion of the negative side of having a completely transparent company. Yes there are a lot of positives to it and the net is a benefit to all involved, but the transparency comes with a price. Everyone knows how much you’re spending on things, you just can’t waste money on niceties other corporations spend money on.

Life’s counterintuitive, when you think you have control like behind the wheel of a car you don’t. When you leave control up to a stranger in a cockpit you actually are traveling safer than in the pervious example, why? When we trust others good things happen to us, it’s healthy for the soul.

We’re all equal.

We don’t believe in dead-end jobs

At Semco you won’t find executive assistants, receptionists, or any type of job that has a glass ceiling. Management takes their own calls, greets their own visitors at the front door and makes their own lunch reservations. More companies in 2017 need to look at a policy that flattens the hierarchy, it’s better for culture, better for your people, and is sustainable in the long-term.

Down with the corporate pyramid

Down with the hierarchy

Ricardo tells a story when he speaks often about a manufacturing company that had front line employees, management in charge of them, another set of management to manage them, and then the executive leadership team managing the lot of them. Usually audiences give him a blank look because that’s a very common way to organize a corporation. The problem is that Ricardo is talking about a company from the 1600’s!! One of the first manufacturing companies in Europe organized like this and was cutting edge at the time. No shit they were cutting edge, that was over 400 years ago!

Why do we organize our institutions after company structures that were developed in the 17th century?!?

They settled on three circles. The Executive circle, the management circle and the everything else circle. No one was more important or less important, it stopped the traditional “corporate ladder climb at all costs” attitude from certain people.

The Semco Women

24 years ago Ricardo recognized that Women didn’t have an equal opportunity to get ahead in the workplace in Brazil. He didn’t agree with the establishment and wanted to do something about it. He wanted to give Women in Brazil a better chance to get ahead and be a leader in Women’s rights in Brazil during a tumultuous time.

In the employee handbook (the only rules set out for Semco employees) there’s a page dedicated to “Semco Women”. You know a business is a head of it’s time when they were doing things that 24 years later in 2017 some organizations still don’t understand this concept.

We’re all equal. 

Why does everyone dress differently while working on the weekend?

Why do you enforce a dress code?

Ricardo tells the story of coming in on a weekend for the first few times. He noticed something peculiar, no one wore the same clothes as they did during the week. Why did EVERYONE dress down on the weekends?

Simple, it’s comfortable. 

The following Monday Ricardo eliminated the dress code. When asked by some senior management “what happens when clients don’t like dress down attitude?”, Ricardo’s reply: “if someone doesn’t wish to do business with us because of something you’re wearing, you don’t want to do business with that kind of person anyway.”

Makes a lot of sense.

Maverick is my favorite business book because it’s not really a business book. It’s more of a philosophy book, he teaches you how to think, how to look at problems differently, and what to value in life.

He wrote the book 24 years ago but recently I subscribed to his podcast called leading wisely, he’s still the same Ricardo. Disrupting business models, interviewing innovators, and is still the official leader of the business revolution! If I were you I’d read the book as soon as you bloody well can!

Here’s his Ted Talk that inspired me several years earlier. What will you do with your terminal days?