Ricardo Semler Photo: Supplied
Ricardo Semler Photo: Supplied

Q&A: A rebel with a cause

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jul 14, 2018

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DURBAN - Ricardo Semler who will be speaking at the Allan Gray Investment Summit next week achieved success in the most strangest way. 

Thirty-eight years ago Semler tossed the workplace rulebook and allowed his 3000 Brazilian employees at his company Semco to determine their own salaries and working hours. 

After that, Semler achieved a 40% return on capital every year for 25 years. 

In an interview, Semler spoke about the situation in South Africa and what the country needs to do to get back on track. 

With the presence of millennials in the workplace demanding a change in the way organisations treat and view their employees do you think your ideas are relevant, or out of date, for today?

In the past 12 to 18 months there have been about 250 companies that have said that they are running their businesses in a Semco-style. This probably due to the catch-up of having a workplace that has flexible rules and times, and a set of principles that were too weird for the business world 40 years ago. 

The Semco Survival Manual from 38 years ago had bosses being approved by subordinates and employees being reviewed anonymously by peers in more junior positions every six months in order for them to be rehired for their jobs. 

However, a concept like this needs a leap of faith and loss of control which are not welcomed by the companies of today. Management and shareholders want results every quarter in an effort to feel like they are in control said Semler. 

Semler said that the Semco style of management is a small endeavour to make these wrongs, right with its participative process and ample sharing in the profits which doubles or trebles the income of employees. 

With the presence of millennials in the workplace demanding a change in the way organisations treat and view their employees do you think your ideas are relevant, or out of date, for today?

The millennial generations are making companies adjust their management models however companies mostly comply in a nominal and tricky fashion as they did with greenwashing and social responsibility. 

Companies think that they are modern because they have painted their walls in a bright colour or they allow people to bring their dogs to work. This is silly and millennial-washing. The idea is to bring in the mature generation and get them to mentor the co-work with the younger generation from a distance.

What are your thoughts on blockchain technology and its potential to decentralise/disrupt institutions, as in the case of cryptocurrency, but also in the way that we share information? 

Blockchain speaks to the disintermediation that has milked off profits and agility and created silos of hugely profitable monopolies. Blockchain is humanity's antidote to greedy bankers, software players and providers, lawyers and doctors. 

Not everyone can be a maverick. What do you think investors can learn from you and your success with Semco to create their own wealth?

From the beginning divide the ideas, the work, the profits and do not let your ego get the better of particularly when the really key issues of life are in play like love, passage of time and commitment. 

Creating wealth in groups is an intelligent path and remember that a 60% success rate is enough and it includes 40% failure. 

Your views on the South African situation – the good, the bad, and the ugly? 

The good is the drive, the grit and the ability to reinvent as it goes. The bad is too much space for corruption, far too many bumps in the road and the forsaking of classes that have no voice. The ugly, is the greed for power, the absence real democracy in the workings behind the scene. However, South Africa is the leader of the future. On we go. 

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