Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace

By Maresco, Peter | New England Journal of Entrepreneurship, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace


Maresco, Peter, New England Journal of Entrepreneurship


Ricardo Semler, Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace, New York: Warner Books, 1993.

Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace by Ricardo Semler (which has sold 1.1 million copies worldwide) "is not a business book. It is a book about work, and how it can be changed for the better" (Library Journal). Although published in 1993, the book provids readers with an insightful journey into the entrepreneurial experiences of a managerial maverick. A graduate of Harvard Business School, today Semler is known around the world for championing his employee-friendly management style. First published in Brazil in 1988 as Turning The Tables, Maverick has become the all-time best-selling nonfiction book in Brazil's history.

Whether you are an entrepreneur seeking to create a company that "thinks outside the box," or happen to be looking for a way to reinvigorate a stagnant, slow-moving, bureaucratic organization, this book should be required reading-regardless of when it was originally published. Semler's new book, The Seven-Day Weekend, recently released in Europe, is scheduled to be published by Portfolio and will be available in April 2004 (ISBN 0712677909).

Every entrepreneur needs to realize that change is possible. You only have to want it to happen bad enough to make change take place. You also need to realize that everything you thought could never happen in your company has already happened. Where? At Semco S.A., the South American manufacturing company Ricardo Semler inherited from his father, Antonio Semler. It was refreshing to read a book about a CEO (a term which is never used at Semco where workers and bosses are typically referred to as associates and coordinators) who, in the mid-1980s, took it upon himself to radically change the culture of his traditionally grounded industrial equipment company.

Semco S.A. was founded by Antonio Semler in 1912. Today it manufactures pumps used to empty oil tankers, high volume industrial dishwashers, cooling units for air conditioners, and various types of industrial mixers for the food industry. On the surface Semco S.A. is not the type of company that would appear to be on the verge of redefining the corporate management paradigm. It is, however, precisely because of the types of businesses that Semco S.A. is involved in that makes this book so profoundly interesting.

"According to his reasoning, medieval cathedral builders produced magnificent works of art virtually without supervision. Why couldn't the men and women of his workforce-adults who made complex and far-reaching decisions in their daily lives-be trusted to choose the colors of their uniforms and decide when to start their workdays? Come to think of it, why couldn't they organize their pay scales and approve their bosses? Why couldn't they decide what new ventures Semco could invest in and veto plans proposed by the CEO? No reason at all" (Shinn 2004).

What steps did Semler take to reinvent the culture at his fathers companies? Workers set their own production quotas and can come to work anytime between 7 AM and 9 AM. Employees decide among themselves the best time to come to work. Employees redesign the products they make, their work environments, and even formulate their own marketing plans. Bosses run their units with unheard of freedom and determine business strategies without interference from "top management." Each division is allowed to set its own salary structure. All financial information is discussed openly and freely. If employees need assistance in making sense of the financials, classes are held to assist workers in understanding the real meaning of the "numbers." There are reception desks with no receptionists. There are no secretaries or personal assistants. There are no executive dining rooms and no personalized parking spaces. It does not matter what employees wear to work. Office workers and managers are allowed to dress as they please. …

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