· 2 min read · Features

A leader who wants to be made redundant

If you want to see the future go to So Paulo in Brazil, not the Silicon Valley. In this issue we do the next best thing and interview Ricardo Semler, the majority owner of Semco. He is also the author of Maverick! which exploded into a tired business book market a decade ago and provoked 2,000 executives to trek to So Paolo. The book showed how a small manufacturing company had rid itself of command-and-control management and created a truly sustainable business. Since then the business has increased its revenue four-fold and diversified into services and e-business.

It may be hard for HR directors to accept but Semler does not want an HR function. Semcos HR department is now down to two people from around 90 in its heyday even though the company has grown from 450 to 1,350 people (not including non-permanent staff). Perhaps even more disturbing, Semler believes he wont need anyone in HR at all in the long term. He says that the assumption that we do products and services here and deal with people over there does not make sense. There are really no important issues which are not people issues.

But before you look away, consider what Semler has been doing. He has introduced a system of local democracy whereby divisional CEOs govern through committees that have been voted in by staff in which each member has one equal vote whether that be the CEO or Semler himself. Semler understands that the system will fail unless he stops making the decisions. Recently, he celebrated 10 years of not making decisions. He is the CEO who wants to be made redundant. He believes the greatest value he can add to the business is to continue to break down the barriers to the new world that he is creating. It is his insistence that no one defines what Semco is that allows it to harbour dotcom 20-somethings alongside 60-year-old manufacturing directors without having to change either of them.

Anyone who can learn from Semco even if that means integrating HR into the line rather than obliterating it will be surprised by the effect. Politicians have argued about this for centuries: if you push decisions down, it can make a world of a difference. The beauty of Semco is how far this has gone and how successful it appears to be.

Once again Ellis Watson has raised an issue of immense importance. When a major French corporation asked him to look at its staff morale problem, he found to his amazement that the problem was entirely based on records of e-mails sent by employees to one another and to their friends. There was nothing wrong with the company, Watson concluded, apart from the decision of the management to snoop on its employees and to draw the wrong conclusions.

Morice Mendoza